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Fog, wind cancels first balloon race event

NATCHEZ — Concerns about visibility and wind speed ended the first flight of the 2013 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race before it ever began.

Balloonists waited for a thick fog across the Mississippi River to clear, but two hours after the initial pilot briefing, the race — a biathlon event that would have included a bicycle race in addition to the balloon flight — was cancelled this morning. The southwesterly winds would have taken balloons from their launching spot on Cemetery Road to Concordia Parish.

Balloon Meister Bill Cunningham said winds started picking up just as the fog was lifting, prompting the final decision to call the race.

Winds were blowing at approximately 7 miles per hour at Natchez this morning.

“You have to make a decision with the entire group in mind, and we felt like it was safer for the entire group,” Cunningham said. “With the fog, the flying part we can definitely fly over, but it is a problem when you get ready to land and you can’t see the power lines or other obstacles — it is a lot trickier when you can’t see where you’re going.”

The pilot of the Jersey Lilly balloon, Bob Evans of Center, Texas, was disappointed but said he would rather fly on the side of safety.

“It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air praying you could get down on the ground,” he said.

“You are all fired up to get up and fly, but you have something like this where you can’t see towers or power lines and everything goes out the window.”

Crew Relations Director Curtis Moroney said the cancellation was a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise beautiful morning.

“If it is raining or really windy, it is really easy to explain to people why the balloons didn’t fly, but these guys know what they are doing,” he said. “Obviously we hate it, but what do you do if the pilots think it is not safe enough to fly?”

The balloon glow will continue as scheduled at 7 p.m. today, followed by fireworks over the river at 7:30 p.m.

Flights are also scheduled for 7:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.