Yellowstone Eruption Scuttles Balloon Regatta

Chicago, IL, July 22, 2019 -- A massive volcanic eruption at Yellowstone National Park yesterday wreaked havoc for the organizers and balloon captains of the 9th Annual Hot Air Balloon Regatta, causing disappointment among surviving spectators and participants. The eruption, which had not been anticipated by the regatta's organizers, severely disrupted the day's events and may force Western Ballooning to cancel the project altogether for this year.

"Things started off just perfect," said Trixie Anderson, granddaughter of the legendary balloonist Maxie Anderson and chief organizer of the regatta, "but once the volcano blew up, the whole thing became a shambles. It was such a shame. The sun was out, breezes favourable. We had over fifty balloons in the air, all roped together to form a giant IOC logo."

The main sponsor of the event was the city of Billings, Montana, which was vying for the privilege of hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics. Event organizers had planned to create a massive multicoloured display of hot air balloons depicting the familiar interlinked rings of the Olympics.

"Then when Yellowstone blew, the whole thing just fell apart," said Anderson. "I looked at the aerial photographs of the logo, and it's like a bunch of ovals. Not rings at all. Plus the photo is all fuzzy from the flying ash."

Two of the nine surviving balloon captains, Ira and Myrna Schumer of Peoria, Illinois, described their efforts to maintain a stable formation in a torrent of superheated ash and cinder:

"It was no picnic," said Ira. "We were part of the middle of the green ring, positioned about where it intersects with the black and near the yellow. We were all roped up and had achieved the same altitude as the rest of the formation, when we looked a little to the southwest and saw a 40-mile-high column of ash and smoke."

Yellowstone's volcano, which had been dormant for over 640,000 years, erupted with a force roughly 300 times that of Mount St. Helens, depositing ash as far east as Pennsylvania. High sulfuric acid levels were detected mere hours later in rain falling over Seattle, Washington.

"Then there was a major wind buffet that knocked us right off course," continued Myrna. "We dropped about 50 feet. Our guy wires clipped the baskets off two of the yellows and they dropped like stones, of course. There were still enough balloons around to make the rings, though, so we hit the gas and settled back in formation long enough for the aerial shoot. But then the ash started falling."

Most of the balloons and their crews were destroyed immediately by volcanic deposits. Those few who miraculously escaped had equipped their crafts with the small self-contained escape capsules usually used in ocean crossings, and were able to survive beneath the ninety foot layer of ash until they could be located using low-frequency transponder signals. Most of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming were buried up to a depth of 100 feet.

"It wasn't too bad," said Harry Glenn, co-captain on Blue #2. "We had a bottle of champagne in the capsule, so we kept ourselves pretty entertained while we were waiting. After 19 hours, though, I can tell you I had to take a serious leak."

Asked whether the event will be rescheduled, Anderson was sceptical. "I don't think Billings is going to sponsor it again, since we can't actually even find the city right now," she said. "I think we'll just have to call this one a wash, and set our sights on next year."

By Ion Zwitter, Avant News Editor

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