South County residents thrill by balloon landing in neighborhood

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SOUTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KPLR) – What thrill in a South County, caught on camera:  a balloon landing right in the middle of a neighborhood street.

It turned out to be one of the pilots from the Great Forest Park Balloon Race making a surprise touchdown.

Paula Simontacchi started recording as the balloon looked like it was about to get hung up in thick row of tall trees just beyond the rooftops on Summerfield Manor Drive in Oakville.

Her dogs seemed to know what was happening before she and her neighbors figured out:  the French Lick Resort balloon out of Indiana wasn’t just flying low; it was coming in for a landing.

“(The dogs) thought we were under attack.  They just saw it coming and they were barking at it,” Simontacchi said.

People knew about the balloon race being that day. But they were used to seeing only the glorious takeoff:  42 balloons up and away, Saturday.

Most people give little thought to where all those balloons actually land.

Balloon pilots think of that from the start, especially in St. Louis, where the lay of the land is tricky.

“In St. Louis you go up you see what you see.  You see trees, wires, antennas.  So the pilots are really good,” said John Marlow, President of the Great Forest Park Balloon Race.  “They’re here by invitation only.  You can’t just say I want to go to Forest Park…these are the best of the best.”

Pilot Jerry Copas knew exactly what he was doing, Marlow said, lifting up over the trees and navigating the winds safely onto the street.

“Eventually everyone showed up and they were like, ‘oh, they meant to do this’.  At first we were like, ‘what is going on?’” Simontacchi laughed.  “While we were down there the man that was riding in it, he said they don’t get to pick where they land.  He kind of just said it lands where it wants…I think it was cool.”

“We’ve landed and people have invited us in for barbecue,” Marlow said of past surprise landings.  “People have landed in back yards.  We’ve landed at convents and tethered and given nuns rides…this is to give back.  Everybody’s supposed to have a good time and I think they do.”

That was certainly the case on Summerfield Manor.

“I think it was cool,” Simontacchi

Marlow said there had never been a serious injury in the race’s 43 year history.

John Marlow/President Balloon Race: “St. Louis you go up you see what you see. You see trees, wires, antennas. So the pilots are really good. They`re here by invitation only. You can`t just say I want to go to forest park. The hours are triple what most races have. So these are the best of the best”.

He says pilot Jerry Copas knew exactly what he was doing, lifting up over the trees and navigating Saturday`s tricky winds, safely down onto Summerfield Manor Drive.

The residents eventually figured that out, too, but it was still quite the thrill.