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Pilots participating in Great Texas Balloon Race make safe emergency landings on Loop 281

Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 11:18 AM CDT
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LONGVIEW, Texas (KLTV) - It was a sight that caught some East Texas drivers by surprise. A pair of hot air balloons that were taking part in the Great Texas Balloon Race were forced to make landings on a busy roadway.

It happened yesterday evening in Longview, as balloons making a fun flight over the city had to make skillful landings on Loop 281.

East Texas News Weekend’s Bob Hallmark has more on how the pilots had to avoid some very real dangers to get down safely.

As pilots finished their second day of competition in the skies over Longview, many were still talking about the emergency set down pilots had to make Friday evening.

“We came over the trees, and I saw this and said, ‘You know what? I’ll stop traffic,’” said Pat Cannon, a balloon pilot from Lewisville.

KLTV reporter Jamey Boyum happened to be driving by when he took these shots. The balloons were taking part in a fun flight over Longview when the wind just vanished.

″It was close to sunset. Winds were getting calm,”’ said Michael Celentano, a balloon pilot from Allen. “And you got to take your best opportunity. Sometimes it’s a road.”

Aside from the traffic there on a Friday night, there were power lines and trees. Setting down took some skill.

“Power lines and trees - a lot around here,” Celentano said.

With a narrow window to land, pilots had to avoid getting hung up on obstacles and hope that motorists would make room for them.

“We saw no power lines on this side or the other side of the road, so I just figured this is about as good as it’s going to get tonight,” Cannon said. “It’s just a little sliver. But I’m pretty good at putting them in slivers.”

Some motorists even pitched in to help.

“I yelled, ‘Hey, I need some help,’ Cannon said. “And everybody was just driving by going, ‘Uhhh.’”

“Got into the road, slid a little bit,” Celentano said. “Planted her and stopped her.”

In the end, both landed safely, injuring no one.

“Typical flight,” Celentano said.

“Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do,” Cannon said.

Today is the final day of competition for the 2021 Great Texas balloon race. Pilots were expected to be airborne by 6:45 a.m. this morning.

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