Balloons Over Waikato gets a Chief response

Chief Responder ove Waikato

Open2view’s Emi Lardone snapped some photos of the Chief Responder during the festival’s first event, the Hamilton City Ascension. Click on each image for a larger view.

Balloons Over Waikato 2013 has officially lifted off. This, the nation’s biggest and most colourful hot air ballooning festival, runs until this Sunday and features school visits, tethered rides, plenty of flights and a fireworks display.

One assumes the balloons will be on the ground during the latter.

Arguably the most interesting balloon of the lot comes from Glen Falls in New York State. ‘Chief Responder’ is the Monahan brothers’ tribute to those New York City firefighters who lost their lives on 11 September 2001.

fireman-high-res-225x300

Chief Responder in full flight over the US.

When the balloon was purchased from Brazil it came with a regular Fire Chief badge on the fireman’s hat. New owners Todd Monahan and his twin brother Scott replaced it with something more poignant: an image of New York firefighters righting an American flag in rubble, with the Twin Towers standing tall in the background. The balloon carries the ID number 343 – the number of firefighters who died that day.

Todd, balloon pilot and owner of Monahan Airways, explained to Open2view via email why he created this giant floating tribute.

“Being from New York was one of the biggest reasons; we all remember where we were that day and time,” he says.

Todd was studying four and a half hours down the road at the State University of New York when the planes hit.

“I was walking out of my class at SUNY Oswego and heard everyone talking about it. I thought people were mistaken so I ran back to my dorm room, where my roommates had it on three different TVs, and couldn’t believe what was happening before my eyes. I was glued to the television for the next couple of days amazed something like this could actually happen.”

Chief Responder grey Hamilton sky

The reaction from firefighters, be they from New York or elsewhere, has been “absolutely amazing. We see New York Firefighters all over the world who admire this particular balloon. The feeling we get when we are able to talk with them puts goose bumps on our arms.”

On one occasion, in New Mexico, a spectator walked up and removed the pilot’s cap – only to replace it with his own, an official New York Fire Department hat.

Todd’s love affair with hot air balloons formed during his youth, when he could often be seen on his bike trying to chase them down. Shortly after graduating he decided to follow his dream and become a full time balloon pilot.

His training “took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, site of the world’s largest balloon festival. My twin brother and I started attending festivals all around the world and thought it would be neat to buy a special shape balloon together.” This was when the Monahans bought Clown-N-Around, which came here for the 2011 festival.

Monahan Airways’ fleet of novelty-shaped balloons always gets a big reaction from audiences, which is why Todd prefers them to their oval counterparts. “The novelty never wears off,” he says, “because there is a special roar with every crowd.”

Balloons over Waikato

Pursuing a career that satisfies one’s adrenalin rush truly is living the dream life. That Todd gets to pay tribute to his heroes in the process is a definite bonus.

Chief Responder, he says, “symbolises so much more than flying for fun in a special shape balloon. This represents all the lives that were lost on that day.”

In full flight, the balloon is an amazing and uplifting sight.

Balloons Over Waikato runs from now until Sunday 7 April. Check out their website and Facebook page for the programme and updates. And if you wish to track the balloons without using your bike, follow their progress online via Smartrak.

One thought on “Balloons Over Waikato gets a Chief response

  1. Pingback: Fire safety campaign: a wrap up, and some important links | Open2view

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