Barge drop dropped

Published 12:25 am Friday, October 7, 2011

NATCHEZ — The Great Mississippi River Balloon Race will be missing one of its trademark events this year.

The balloon race committee decided to exchange the annual barge drop for a different flight this year.

The change, executive director of the race committee Babs Price said, came because many of the balloon pilots weren’t comfortable with the barge drop.

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The task, which has been the Saturday afternoon highlight for years, requires balloon pilots to fly over the Mississippi River, drop down low and toss a beanbag at a target on a barge in the middle of the river.

“Anytime you get near the river like that, you have the chance of going into the river and having an accident,” she said.

No pilot was required to make the flight or drop down close to the river.

Local pilot Stephen Guido said he is disappointed the barge drop is not happening this year.

“We have a bunch of pilots that come up here that are nice, recreational, don’t take chances kind of pilots,” he said. “Some days they just won’t fly.”

Guido said his balloon nearly went into the river five years ago.

“I had to get down in the river and drop a line to a barge and get drug to the bank,” he said.

Guido said the winds are very unpredictable during afternoon flights, but that does not deter him from flying.

“I wouldn’t take off if I was nervous,” he said. “I’m confident in what I do.”

Guido said pilots can usually pop up to 3,000 or 4,000 feet and catch a wind that will get them off the river.

Bill Cunningham, balloonmeister, said the barge drop may not be gone forever.

“It’s not to say it might not come back in the future, but we always try to add something new every year.”

The barge drop is being replaced by a key grab that will challenge pilots to grab the key to a new truck off the top of a 50-foot pole at the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens festival grounds.

Ed Godfrey, site manager for the race, said take-off and landing location for the balloons will depend on the wind.

“If the wind is moving east, they’ll take of east of Rosalie,” Godfrey said. “If it’s moving north, they’ll take off north of Rosalie

Godfrey said the prime viewing area for the key grab will be at the Rosalie Bicentennial Gardens. People will still be able to see the balloons from the Vidalia Riverfront, he said, but the riverfront is not going to be a primary location to see the balloon action.

Guido said he hopes the barge drop is brought back for future races. He said he would like to see more money spent on getting experienced pilots to fly at the race, pilots would be comfortable with the afternoon flight.

“Half of the (pilots) don’t fly, and then you only have 10-15 really experienced pilots who will.”

The balloon race is Oct. 14-16. A weekend pass to the festival grounds is $25. Admission to the festival grounds is as follows:

Children ages 7-12

  • $3 Friday
  • $5 Saturday
  • $5 Sunday
  • $8 for weekend pass


  • $5 Friday
  • $15 Saturday
  • $10 Sunday
  • $25 for weekend pass

Tickets can be purchased in advance at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, the Historic Natchez Foundation and online at

For more information about the balloon race, visit