Baltimore balloon strands riders for two hours

July 18, 2004 at 9:31 AM
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BALTIMORE, July 18 (UPI) -- Authorities in Baltimore are investigating a weekend incident that stranded 17 people in a balloon's gondola 200 feet in the air for more than two hours.

The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday the sightseers thought they were going for a 20-minute ride in a slight breeze at 11 knots Saturday. Instead they were buffeted by unexpected wind gusts of 40 knots that sent the balloon slamming into air conditioning equipment on top of Baltimore's police headquarters building.

"I thought we were going to die when we hit that building. We didn't just glance it; it was a crushing blow," said Bryan Dorland, a Naval Observatory astronomer from College Park, Md., who was on the ride with his 10-year-old daughter. "I was in the Marine infantry, (but this) was the first time I felt I was going to die."

Because the balloon swung so wildly, the computer controlling the 10-ton winch tethering the balloon lost track of the balloon's location, the newspaper reported. That, in turn, shut down the 55-horsepower engine used to bring the balloon to the ground, stranding the occupants in the air for two hours near the city's inner harbor tourist area.

Four of the balloon occupants were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

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