Lifeguards, surfers help bring balloon passengers down to earth


Cardiff beachgoers watching the sunset saw something unexpected on the horizon recently: a hot air balloon drifting toward the sea.

About 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, Encinitas lifeguards got a call for help after a hot air balloon made an emergency landing about 300 yards offshore from Cardiff State Beach.

All on board made it to shore safely — but the rescue was certainly something witnesses won’t soon forget.

One of those onlookers was Kathy Weldon, an engineer for the city who happened to be on the beach. At first, she said she thought nothing of it, as hot air balloons are typical in that area.

“But then I realized the balloon was flying way too low, and I thought ‘OK, that’s not normal,’” she recalled.

Wind conditions had carried the hot air balloon toward the sea — and that, coupled with low fuel supply, forced the pilot to cast a line to a group of surfers in the water. The 20 or so surfers were able to provide the manpower to help lifeguards tow the balloon back toward the shoreline.

After pulling the hot air balloon close to the beach, lifeguards were able to hoist the two passengers onto a paddleboard. The pilot stayed on board and helped navigate the balloon back to shore, taking hits from waves along the way.

Ultimately, everyone made it back safely, which Encinitas Lifeguard Captain Larry Giles said was the most important thing, made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Encinitas lifeguards, the California State Park lifeguards, and the bystanders who sprang into action.

“The unified response was absolutely critical, and we are very grateful to the surfers who assisted,” Giles said, adding that the balloon was also salvaged, and deflated once it reached shore.

Encinitas lifeguard Annie Howe was among the emergency responders, and she said, “This is definitely a one-of-a-kind call.”

Weldon says although unusual, the experience has only underscored her appreciation for the lifeguards.

“They always do a great job, and they’re always prepared,” she said. “We’re lucky to have them.”