Sunday, October 05, 2014

Theft prevents memorial flight of California balloon

The Rainbow Thru Heaven balloon, which was to take part in this year’s Balloon Fiesta but was stolen sometime early Saturday, police say. 
(Courtesy Of APD)

Marilyn Wallace planned to pilot the Rainbow Thru Heaven balloon every morning of this year’s Balloon Fiesta in honor of her father, Rick Wallace, who died of cancer 10 weeks ago.

Rick had been flying the familiar balloon at the fiesta since 1981 – it’s the baby blue one with a checkered rainbow pattern and an American flag.

“Everybody knows Rick Wallace’s balloon,” said Lucinda Wallace, Rick’s wife. “It’s been all over the place.”

Then, as Lucinda put it, “a horrible thing” happened.

Albuquerque police said someone stole the hot-air balloon from the Nativo Lodge near Interstate 25 and San Mateo early Saturday morning.

The 90,000-cubic-foot balloon was in a trailer attached to a Chevy Suburban with a license plate that reads, “baluner.” The thief broke the glass to get in and drove away with everything between 4 and 4:45 a.m.

“My dad died this summer and we wanted this week to symbolize moving on,” Marilyn said. “Dad would have been thrilled. He loved it every time I launched.”

Instead of taking part in Saturday’s mass ascension, Marilyn and her mother departed Albuquerque the same day on a plane for their home in Santa Monica, Calif. They intend to get Marilyn’s balloon, one designed with horizontal and colored bands, and drive it back to the Duke City. The earliest she could fly at the fiesta is Monday.

“We had to figure out what we could do to salvage Balloon Fiesta,” Lucinda said.

Lucinda hopes the thief or thieves who stole the vehicles realize what they did and leave the trailer with the balloon in it on the side of the road. They won’t be able to launch the balloon, she said, because it’s been reported stolen.

“If they want the Suburban, keep the Suburban,” she said.

Tom Garrity, Balloon Fiesta spokesman, said it’s unusual for balloonists to lose a balloon or equipment. He said it can be tough for a thief to sell or pawn the loot because other balloonists will be on the lookout for the missing items.

“The balloon community is pretty tight in Albuquerque,” he said.

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