New Mexico Hundreds of balloonists in New Mexico lifted off Saturday at dawn amid a somber mood, opening the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta while search crews on the other side of the globe scoured the seas for two of the sport’s most acclaimed pilots.
Richard Abruzzo of Albuquerque and Carol Rymer Davis of Denver were participating in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race when contact was lost Wednesday morning over the Adriatic Sea. Scuba divers joined in the search efforts Saturday, but race organizers said the two plunged toward the water at 50 mph and likely didn’t survive.
Kevin Knapp, a pilot and deputy director of the America’s Challenge gas balloon race scheduled to begin Tuesday in Albuquerque, acknowledged the mood is more serious this year, but he said friends and colleagues of the pair are holding onto any hope.
“To survive a descent like that is challenging. I know people who have, I know people who haven’t, but all we know now is that it was a fast descent. We know they’re still missing, we know the search is still on and we all still have hope,” said Knapp, who described the pair as mentors to many in the ballooning community.