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ALMOST WITHIN REACH: Pilot comes close to winning key grab prize

LAUREN WOOD / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — At center, pilot Al Muir reaches out of his basket just missing the pink ribbon to win a new truck during the key grab flight Saturday afternoon.

NATCHEZ — Applause from hundreds of spectators down below on the bluff just wasn’t enough to give pilot Al Muir the extra push he needed to reach the elusive pink ribbon at Saturday’s key grab.

Muir was the only pilot that came within a few feet of winning a new truck from Great River Chevrolet-GMC, but that didn’t stop a handful of others from taking off and giving it a shot.

The pilots had to take off at least two miles away from the location of the ribbon at the festival grounds at the Bicentennial Gardens.

For more photos from the weekend’s balloon race click here.

But in the end grabbing the ribbon, which was attached to two different balloons allowing it to float in the air, proved to be too difficult of a task for any pilot. Most balloons soared clear over the projected target, or didn’t attempt the task at all and chose to fly in Concordia Parish instead.

The morning race told a different story, however, with most of the 64 pilots making it to the Natchez Mall to drop off three different beanbags on the various targets below them on the ground.

Other than giving the pilots a chance to show off their throwing skills, the event gave spectator Mallory Dickey, 11, plenty to watch and photograph on her iPad.

“All the balloons just kept coming in, so I ended up taking way too many pictures,” Dickey said as she slid her finger across the screen. “I like watching them fly mostly, but the targets are fun to watch too, because they get real low.”

For Dickey and her grandmother, Jo Ann Herrington, the balloon race has been a family tradition since before Dickey could walk.

“I think she was 4-months-old sitting in a stroller for her first balloon race,” Herrington said. “The balloons are just so gorgeous it’s hard not to come back.”

Herrington, who worked on a crew for 20 years, said she is slowly and surely passing on her love of ballooning to the rest of the family.

“It’s a tradition for us to come out to the races every chance we can,” Herrington said. “It gets a little harder as they get older and have other things going on, but I’m going to keep trying.”

That effort, Dickey said, will become more rewarding once she gets to fly in a balloon.

“I’ve always wanted to go flying in one, but I haven’t gotten a chance to yet,” Dickey said. “I’ve gotten in one and done a tethered ride, but I really want to do a normal flight.”

And with last year’s target drop putting on a show for all the spectators because of superior wind conditions, Herrington said this year’s event had a lot to live up to in terms of wowing the crowd.

“There were a lot of balloons off target, but I think the wind was good enough to let them swing around for one more shot,” Herrington said. “But last year those box winds were just perfect and let the pilots come in several times.”

The race continues this morning with a scheduled 7:30 a.m. flight. Music will continue on the bluff this afternoon.