Balloonists Complete America’s Challenge Race


The America’s Challenge gas balloon race launched from Albuquerque last weekend after a tribute to the two pilots lost over the Adriatic Sea last month, and by Monday afternoon all six of the teams had landed safely. The top three teams were all led by female pilots. Race organizers said, “While we haven’t had time to do the research, it’s almost certain that this is a first in the annals of competitive distance gas ballooning.” Barbara Fricke and copilot Peter Cuneo flew the farthest, landing on the east shore of the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, on Monday after flying 1,350 miles from their launch point. Unofficial results place Danielle Francoeur and Linda Ellis in second place, with 1,223 miles, and Cheri White and Mark Sullivan third, with 938 miles. One team, Troy Bradley and Shane Robinson, made a precautionary landing in Texas, just 266 miles from the start, after someone on the ground with a rifle fired at them several times.

Bradley told Albuquerque news station KOB they were flying just 400 feet above a cornfield near Lubbock when they heard the first shot. Bradley said his copilot scanned the area with binoculars, and spotted a truck. “He could actually see the gun pointed at us. And then another shot went and he could see the flash from the gun barrel.” Robinson called 911 and police arrived and arrested the men in the truck. Bradley landed the balloon to check for damage. The America’s Challenge race has been held every year since 1995 in conjunction with the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. Richard Abruzzo was scheduled to compete; he was flying in the Gordon Bennett race on Sept. 29 when he and Carol Rymer Davis disappeared during a thunderstorm.