As a recent Heart of Texas hot air balloon rider, you can imagine the shock and devastation that went through my mind upon hearing that this same balloon with 16 passengers tragically lost their lives(Channel 2 News Reporting).
I knew the pilot as Skip. He was warm, friendly and one could immediately tell was also very knowledgeable in his work. He gave 14 passengers, which included my friends and I, a great adventure and a thrill of a lifetime ride! (Read about it here.)
As a writer and author you may know I happen to be skittish of heights. I knew the risk involved, but I was determined to harness my fears. However, way before our flight, there were some warning signs that gave us pause. I am sharing them now for awareness.
When we arrived to our destination, we all boarded two vehicles to take us to the open field. The girls and I got to ride in Skip’s truck with his assistant. The rest climbed into a van behind us. It was about a 30 minute ride and his assistant got off course and they had to rely on their GPS to finally get us there. When I asked Skip how many times he had flown over the location where we were headed, he said it would be his first time. When I asked him why was that, he said he was bored and wanted someplace new. I have to wonder, isn’t “new’ adding more risk?
I knew Skip wanted to get us up in plenty of time before the sun set. After we arrived, we watched Skip and his crew get into action, backing up the trailer and pulling all the equipment and ropes out to set up the balloon. We couldn’t help but look up each time we heard jets zooming by and wondered about the safety in what we were going to do. As they were filling the balloon, a man walked up to us asking who the person in charge was. We all pointed to Skip. That’s when we learned we did not have permission to fly over this field. Another 15 minutes or so went by with Skip and the other gentlemen arguing over sufficient insurance coverage, regulations, policies, and the buildings in the area before Skip made the call to shut it down and board up.
We then headed for San Marcos Airfield. Once we arrived, Skip and his crew went into action again, rushing to get that balloon up before dark. When ready, we were instructed to hop in, howbeit somewhat clumsily, unable to lower a leg from the ledge of the basket down into our tight space. But once up, it became obvious that Skip was in his element. Our nerves dissipated and the view was absolutely breath taking!
We stayed up about 40 minutes, watching the sun set and taking plenty of pictures. As we started declining, Skip asked us all to be on the lookout for power lines! When we came close to a post he radioed one of his teammates asking if it was a power line. Thank goodness, it wasn’t.
In retrospect, I realize we may have bitten off more than we bargained for and the tide of events could have easily turned against us. Perhaps if one sees or feels unnerved before doing anything, one should pay attention to their God given common sense.
Our hearts and prayers go out to all the family members affected in this recent tragedy.
A sadden heart,
Alfred “Skip” Nichols, may he RIP.
At 3000 ft – my hot air balloon ride on January 2016