ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Saturday morning marks the start of the 50th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, but first organizers wanted to commemorate how it all started. Friday Morning, Balloon Fiesta held a 50th anniversary special event at Coronado Center in Albuquerque. Relatives and representatives of Fiesta’s 13 founding pilots took part in a reenactment of the original Balloon Fiesta flight.

Fifty years ago in 1972, 13 hot air balloon pilots launched to the skies from the Coronado Center unaware of the impact they would have. “If you guys remember right here where we are sitting was the Sears fountain,” said Randy Sanchez, General Manager of the Coronado Center.

Now, the event is recognized around the world. Last year alone 600 hot air balloons hit the skies bringing in millions of visitors to Albuquerque over the years. “I don’t know if any of you actually had any idea what would become of what you started,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

Before the crowds shuffle onto the field, organizers wanted to mark the special occasion and remember the 13 pilots that made it all possible and where it all started at the Coronado Center. “Nobody had ever seen a gathering of balloons like this and it was very special,” said Steve McKee, representing his father Dick McKee, the general manager of KOB-AM in 1972.

For the 50th anniversary, they had three of the thirteen original pilots in attendance. “Lucky to be able to think back that far,” said Denny Floden, an original Fiesta pilot. “It brings people together, pardon the pun but it’s very uplifting and the people in Albuquerque have responded so graciously.”

Friday morning the balloons took off without a hitch, kicking off what should be a successful year of Fiesta. Getting the community and visitors alike excited for what’s to come these next nine days.