ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta got off to a rocky start on Saturday, as someone was walking around the field slicing a handful of balloons while they were being inflated. It kept those balloons grounded on opening weekend.
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Balloons were taking to the sky, creating a colorful, picturesque view. However, for at least two balloons on the opening day of Fiesta, that didn’t happen as planned.
“Early Saturday morning, as some of the balloons were inflating, somebody went through and just made some cuts on a couple of the envelopes on two balloons,” said Tom Garrity, spokesperson for Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
People taking part in Balloon Fiesta said they know of at least four balloons that were sliced over opening weekend.
Garrity said the cuts on the two balloons on opening day were discovered during the safety check pilots do before launch. Pilots said they were briefed on the vandalism of the two balloons Sunday morning.
“Shock that somebody would just come up and do that,” said Sean Eakin, a first-time pilot at Balloon Fiesta.
“I just can’t comprehend that mindset. Why would anybody want to do something like that? What are they gaining from that,” said Bill Armstrong, a pilot who has been attending Balloon Fiesta for more than two decades.
Balloon Fiesta is not sharing details on how big the cuts were, what may have been used to make them, or which balloons were cut. Pilots are on alert.
“With what I do for a living, I’m always looking around. But I asked my crew to be a little more vigilant than they normally are,” said Eakin.
Garrity said the two punctured balloons were repaired and back up and flying on Monday. Pilots said it shows nothing can keep them down.
“It starts it off on a hard note. But it’s gotten better. They got the balloons repaired, they’re back in the air. Everybody’s up and having a really good time right now,” said Eakin. “It will absolutely not ruin the week, we will drive on.”
Balloon Fiesta’s public safety team is investigating the incident and Garrity said they are handling the matter internally. There is no word yet on if they have any suspects.
Garrity also said they are ‘stepping up’ security at Balloon Fiesta, though they have not specified how.