ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A shipping dispute one pilot calls extortion in China may keepsome much-loved special-shape balloons from flying in this year'sAlbuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
That's because the Chinese government hasn't given them back totheir owners.
Several balloon owners packed up their gear and headed to Chinaa few weeks ago for an event in Mongolia. The owners came back buttheir balloons didn't.
Now there is a fight with the Chinese to get the fancy flyersback.
“We are crossing our fingers and our legs, and we arehoping for the best,” said Frank Wechter, a pilot for 35years and owns the world's largest shopping bag balloon.
But this year he may be grounded because his balloon and 12others never made it back from a balloon festival in InnerMongolia.
“We were treated hospitably but when it came time to getour equipment back the Chinese have not followed through,” hesaid.
Among the special shapes still in China are Darth Vader, theClown balloon, the Pink Elephant, Mr. Sunboy, the Snowman, and Golfand Soccer Ball balloons.
Gov. Bill Richardson got involved speaking with the Chineseambassador, but getting the fancy fliers back has gone nowhereuntil recently.
“The organizer here in the U.S. has wire--for lack of abetter term extortion money--to the shipping company in China withan oral agreement stating that our balloons are going to be on anairplane to come back to Albuquerque in about two days time,”Wechter said.
Once the balloons arrive in Los Angeles they will spend threedays in U.S. Customs and then driven to New Mexico on a truck.
Even if they make it in time, Wechter said they still may not beable to fly.
“We are unsure of the conditions of how they were storedin China," he said.
The Balloon Fiesta kicks off Oct. 3 with a morning massascension.
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