Mass ascension launches balloon event after COVID-19 disruption

FILE – In this file photo from October 6, 2019, hot air balloons fly over Albuquerque, New Mexico during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. The Hot Air Balloon Festival returns after a pandemic hiatus with plans to launch around 540 hot air balloons in a stunning visual spectacle. The nine-day event begins Saturday, October 2, 2021. (Jerry Larson / Waco Tribune-Herald via AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico Hundreds of hot air balloons created a colorful tapestry against a blue sky on Saturday as New Mexico’s largest city began an annual nine-day event that was canceled last year due to the pandemic.

The massive 7am climb was the first of five scheduled for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, a heavily photographed event that draws visitors from around the world.

The 2020 fiesta has been canceled as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Organizers said more than 540 balloons were registered for this year’s event. The 2019 fiesta drew nearly 600 balloons from the United States and 17 other countries.

Fiesta organizers said they would not check vaccination cards, but noted that precautions were being taken to maintain social distancing and provide access to hand sanitizer and hand washing stations.

Indoor meals for balloon pilots and VIPs have been canceled.

More than 80 balloons that come in special ornate or cartoonish forms will be distributed throughout the launch field, rather than clustered together – encouraging crowds to disperse, said Fiesta spokesperson Tom Garrity.

Scheduled events include a chainsaw sculpture exhibit, fireworks, paratroopers, live musical performances, and a walking mariachi band.

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