Why Launching a Cloud of One and a Half Million of Balloons Didn’t End Well
In 1986, American charity foundation United Way of Greater Cleveland organized an advertising performance on a previously unseen scale: to draw attention to their activities, the organizers tried to set a world record for the largest number of balloons simultaneously launched in the air.
The show that got the name – Balloonfest’86 – took place in one of the central squares of Cleveland, surrounded by the three tallest buildings in the city. It took the effort of two and a half thousand volunteers to do the main task — fill two million balloons with helium.
Soon it became clear that it wouldn’t be possible to reach the desired number: a thunderstorm was hanging over the city, which pushed the launch to several hours earlier than planned. On September 27, at 1.30 pm local time, a cloud of half a million balloons went up in the air.
The audience was excited: “It was beautiful, it looked like confetti going up. Totally awesome.” — the women who were observing the launch commented on it. At that point few people knew what would happen next: because of the rain, the balloons went down and starting falling all over the neighborhood.
Some of them blocked the runway of a local airport, others were the reason for dozens of car accidents.
Many balloons landed on Lake Erie, covering its surface entirely, and thus hindering the work of a rescue team that was searching for two missing fishermen.
After their bodies were finally found, the wife of one of them sued United Way, demanding a $3.2m compensation, but later the sides settled before going to court.