I grew up in Napa, CA and got to watch a lot of hot air balloon landings in our neighborhood. Not all of them went like this but a surprising number did.
And this is a great seqgue for my balloon story.
After we moved out of Napa, we went back and rode a hot air balloon cuz why not and it was overall a great experience.
Hot air balloons are so much bigger than you might think they are. Not just the balloon part, but even the basket you ride in, the gondola, is huge. Much bigger than the little basket they show on Wizard of Oz. We used to help them load up the balloons after they landed in fields or parks in our neighborhood and it always impressed me just how gigantic they were.
In our balloon on that trip, we had my mom and stepdad, me and my brother, and another young couple in addition to the balloon … pilot? and still had plenty of maneuvering space.
The flight itself was uneventful and calm (the burners are loud and very warm) and maybe even a little boring, and the pilot eventually brought us down nice and neat in a quaint, picturesque, and very Napa-esque field, with a solid bump, but nothing rough at all. We were all congratulating him on his superb landing when some crazy lady came running across the field from an old white house, waving a shotgun and trailing three huge barking dogs. She was swearing at us, saying she was going to shoot us for trespassing. The guy kept trying to stall her, telling her that the recovery team was just pulling up to their house, and we’d be out of her hair in no time, but she sic’d the dogs on us “Go on, get em! Get the tresspassers! Get 'em!”. When the dogs got close, the pilot would fire the burners, scaring them off, but they’d just come back again, barking and baying. Not gonna lie, this was pretty scary, even for a 15 yr old.
Seeing her dogs get so easily thwarted pissed her off even more, but just to make it all worse, after one of the burns, one of the big ol’ dogs ran backwards and knocked the grumpy old lady over, feet in the air and everything. We all laughed loud (she was being so unreasonably mean!) but the pilot figured that now the lady was really going to shoot one of us or, worse, his balloon envelope.
He laid on the burner and tried to lift us out of the field, but it takes more than a few seconds to fill that envelope with enough hot air to gain buoyancy. He and the lady kept yelling at each other, she aimed her gun at the guy’s balloon, like she was going to fire, and kept shouting “GET OFF OF MY PROPERTY!” over and over again, but we eventually picked and started to float away from her house.
Crisis averted, right?
Nope. The gondola didn’t get high enough to clear her fence and tipped over, dumping out the other couple, smashing my brothers face into the fuel tanks. I remember thinking that if the pilot went over, I probably knew how to fly this thing (burner and vent…what else do you need?) but,unfortunately, the pilot was able to stay in, and brought us to an ungainly crash stop in some bushes in the neighboring field. Seeing this video reminds me of that “landing”.
That angry old lady continued to rant and yell from her backyard while the recovery team packed us up. The couple that fell out weren’t injured and thought it was all a great adventure. My brother thought he was dying for sure, but I don’t think he even got a bruise out of it.