Hot air balloon visits Rabbit Ears | SteamboatToday.com

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Hot air balloon visits Rabbit Ears

— Gilligan's Island it's not, but maybe someone wil buy the script anyway.

A Pegasus hot air balloon pilot got practice Thursday entertaining five customers from Michigan in a wilderness setting.

And Routt County Search and Rescue members got practice finding a suitable route to Hogan Creek on snowmobiles.

But everybody was home safe and sound in time for dinner.

Sheriff Investigator Gary Sigman said the employees of the Steamboat Ski & resort Corp. radioed dispatch

At about 11:45 a.m. Thursday that a Pegasus baloon was going over the ski mountain.

An unexpected wind shift took the balloon up Walton Creek Canyon, explained Joe Stevens, president of Routt County Search and Rescue. It was a cloudy day with moisture forming snowshowers, low visibility and a good wind chill.

"(The Pilot) got up into the clouds and decided, 'nope, I wanna be able to see the ground," Stevens said.

Pilot John Rapacz, 40, of Steamboat Springs, was successful in a second attempt at landing in an open field, according to Sheriff's Investigator Paul Pirnat. He put the balloon down in an area just inside Grand County, but close to the intersection with routt and Jackson counties.

The pilot made a "nice landing" in a meadow on top of the pass, about 4.5 miles north of U.S. Highway 40, Stevens said, but in a tough spot to get out of.

"Everybody was OK, they just got to spend a few hours huddled under balloon fabric waiting for us to get them," Stevens said.

Tom Fox, former Pegasus owner, and Tom pearson, of Pearson Communications and a pilot, took a fixed wing airplane overhead to pinpoint where the balloon went down, Sigman explained, near the Fishhook and Hogan drainages, and the Hogan Park Trail.

Steamboat Snowmobile Tours sent guides and four snowmobiles with Search and Rescue's five snowmobiles, Stevens said.

"They wondered what took so long, " Pirnat said of the stranded castaways, who included; Janice Kanclerz, 20, of Ypsilanti Mich., Thomas Dzon, 54, of Warren, Mich., Paul Linn, 47, of Canton, Mich., Sharon Alexander, 59, of Royal Oak, Mich., and Jim St. Miklosi, 37, of Madison height, Mich.

One passenger thought a helicopter like the one in the television show "Extreme" might come to their rescue, Pirnat said, but that would have takeb longer. As it was, rescuers made contact by 3 p.m. and had everybody out by 5 p.m.

"We want to thank Tom Pearson and Tom Fox for assisting in the search, and also joe Stevens and the other members of the Routt County Search and rescue unit," Pegasus owner Donald Salatich said. "All did a wonderful job."

Salatich said unpredictable spring winds contributed to the misadventure. He said late in the flight the winds changed and the balloon was blown toward the mountain. The pilot could not find a safe place to land in the valley so he climbed up and over the mountain.

As always, his goal was to get the passengers down safely, Salatich said.