Balloonists hold out hope for missing pair
Veteran US pilots feared lost in race
ALBUQUERQUE — On the eve of a major world balloon festival came word that two of the sport’s most acclaimed pilots were missing in a European race, leaving friends and colleagues in the tight-knit community fearful but holding out hope that they would turn up safe.
Veteran US pilots Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis were participating in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race when contact was lost Wednesday morning over the Adriatic Sea.
Since then, search and rescue teams with the Italian Coast Guard, the US Navy, and Croatian coastal aircraft crews have been scouring the area around Croatia’s distant, uninhabited islet of Palagruza.
Organizers in the European race said yesterday that the Americans’ balloon had plunged toward the Adriatic Sea at 50 miles per hour before disappearing from radar screens and they probably didn’t survive.
Flight director Don Cameron said that high rate of descent, if confirmed, leads him to be “very pessimistic’’ about the fate of Abruzzo and Davis.
The search continued yesterday, but pilots gathered at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta acknowledged the mood was somber.
“It’s very disheartening,’’ said Rick Squires, an Albuquerque pilot who knows Abruzzo, 47, of Albuquerque, and Davis, 65, of Denver. It was Davis’s husband who accompanied Squires on his pilot check ride nearly 20 years ago.
“You can’t put into words what these people mean to the ballooning community here in Albuquerque, nationwide, and worldwide. They’re at the top,’’ Squires said before heading to balloon fiesta park to register for this year’s event.
Inside the registration tent was a long row of cardboard boxes holding the pilots’ packets. At the front was a box with Abruzzo’s name affixed to it.
Event director Don Edwards said he hopes Abruzzo will return and pick up that packet.
“My glass is half full,’’ Edwards said. “Richard was in my office just two days before he left to go over there. We were saying good luck, hope you win, and see you back here next week.’’
The Abruzzo name is well known in ballooning. Abruzzo is the son of famed balloonist Ben Abruzzo, who was in 1981 part of the first team to cross the Pacific Ocean by balloon, and who was killed in a small airplane crash in 1985.
The Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum is named partly for the elder Abruzzo, and the younger has plenty of records and wins under his own belt.