Balloons Race winds down

Published 12:20 am Monday, October 17, 2011

Balloons squeeze in for position around the target at the Natchez Mall Sunday morning during the final event of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

natchez — A third day of perfect winds batted cleanup Sunday for balloon race organizers who had already recorded a win for the weekend.

The Sunday morning flight was nearly as beautiful as the Saturday morning flight, spectators said, as winds again blew in different directions at different altitudes, allowing balloonists to circle back to the target behind the Natchez Mall.

Though not quite as large as Saturday, a significant crowd gathered at the target to see almost 30 balloons pack the sky around the target site for the last round of competition on the final day of the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race.

Monica Sheehan and her daughter Audrey keep their eyes to the skies during the Sunday morning race. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

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The pilots were given three beanbags and a four-part task of tossing the bags at a large square target with an “X” in the center and one hoop to loop on a pole.

Eyes widened and cheers roared from the crowd as at least 25 balloons encircled the target. The colorful ribbons on the beanbags whipped through the air as pilots did their best to score on the marks.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Natchez resident Shelia Williams.

Williams brought her two daughters, Shakylia, 4, and Shakira, 3, to the balloon race for the first year.

“I like the tooth fairy balloon,” Shakira said.

Lisa Wilson has been coming to the balloon just about every year since she moved to Natchez 16 years ago.

“It looks like they stop in time and space,” she said looking up to the sky.

Pilot Brandon Heavin, was piloting one of the three Curves balloons that arrived at the target first.

Several pilots scored, but Heavin was the only pilot Sunday to toss his plastic ring onto the pole in the middle of the target for a cash prize.

Heavin circled the target twice before he was able to float right to the pole and drop his ring onto it.

“The winds were doing a box,” he said. “We knew if we missed it the first time we could get to it again. I managed to get it the second time. It’s a good feeling.”

Wilson said the balloons put on a great show Sunday that was a lot of fun to watch.

“I think we need the barge drop back, though,” she said. “I think, as spectators, we really missed it.”

Parnell Burns said this year’s balloon race was one of the few when the weather for all three days was perfect.

“I love just standing in awe,” he said. “It’s amazing.”