In 1989 when we had the International Championships in Saga, I was one of the staff members in charge of taking care of the visiting group from Glens Falls City, NY. I worked for them as a driver / guide for ten days.
The group consisted of Lynn Kershner and her husband, Tom Ford at Glens Falls board of education, Mrs. Ford, and their son, and Bob, their ballooning instructor.
On the previous evening's parade we had a strong wind and it was chilly indeed. In those days the fiesta was held in the end of November, and it was as if we were side by side with Old Man Winter. I remember the cloth container to include an envelope was frozen on the first morning. Yes, it was so cold!
At first I took it lightly and said to myself, "Probably two or three days will be cancelled on account of bad weather. Then where shall I take them for a trip? To Kunen-an, a traditional house with a beautiful garden or Arita, the world-famous ceramic town?" It was good to think of such a sightseeing plan.
However, I was mistaken. Actually the meteorological team announced that we will have a very good weather for the ten days of competitions, though a low pressure trough will pass just once. I said to myself that it must make me quite busy.
The legendary Saga International Championships without a single cancelling for ten days started with the announcement by the meteorological team. It was really a series of surprising facts for me. An observer in charge of measuring the distance fro the target in JDG said to me, "I was really surprised to see a lot of markers on top of the target! We had to measure their distance very carefully so the markers do not break off." Another observer said, "In a FIN task I saw a pilot approach the target about 5 meters away, but he didn't drop his marker but rose up to make a try. In five minutes he "placed" his marker on top of the target."
We were sure a pilot will "drop" or "throw down" his marker, but top class pilots would "place" their marker on top of the target even in a windy area like Saga. We were really shocked to watch the scene!
While all the balloons were competing for the international championship, we participated as a fiesta balloon,
namely as a friendship balloon. My role was as a driver but helped collect our balloon at the point of its landing.
On the day before the competitions began, Tom Ford invited Mayor Nishimura, Saga City, for a flight in his balloon. To tell the truth, Tom was an inexperienced pilot, so he would fly only in the morning when the wind was not very strong. But on that day he chose to make a flight in the windy afternoon. As soon as they flew up, the balloon was carried south by the strong wind. Before anyone knew what was happening their balloon went as far as the present Saga Airport is located! An ominous premonition flitted across my mind. What if the Saga Newspaper carries a headline tomorrow morning? "A tragedy happens. Mayor Nishimura hasn't been heard of since he flew away from the launch site of the Kase River."
In such an anxious imagination I headed south for the Ariake Sea at full speed, only to find the balloon and the gondola toppled over on its side. His balloon was dragged at least 100 meters in the strong wind! Fortunately, he wasn't wounded at all.
Mayor Nishimura was a man of humour. At the reception sponsored by himself he said, "Tom is such an able pilot as to make me topple over on my side!"
One day in the middle of the term we enjoyed an MND after all the cometition balloons flew away. Tom Ford,
the pilot of the friendship balloon, invited me to fly in his balloon for the MND task. As it was an MND, we were
supposed to come back to the launch site, and it meant that I was not needed as a driver that time. I thanked him for inviting me and had an unforgettable flight during the 1989 International Championships.
There were 23 balloons for the Fiesta or friendship flights including a lot of shaped balloons like a baby whale. On the other hand there were 102 for the competitive balloons. We were not large in number but could also demonstrate our flying to all the spectators at the riverbank launch site.
I cannot forget the exciting scene on that day. What a large crowd it was! The bank from the JR railroad to "Route 207," a national highway, was filled with countless spectators! All of them came here to watch the International Championships to be held for the first time in Saga. Today only the east bank becomes full with people but in 1989 the west bank was also filled with ca large crowd. When we passed flying across the banks we could hear a thundering applause from them. I remember waving my hands to them frantically.
I felt in my pockets but what a shame it was! I forgot to bring my video camera! Tom urged me to ride into the gondola so hastily that I didn't think of my camera left in the chase car. How stupid I was! However, I keep the scene vividly in my memory in spite of my blunder. Three cheers for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta!
Hirto Kita as a Official Movie and Banquet staff member of the Saga International Balloon Fiesta Organization.
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