MT. VERNON — Over 30 volunteers attended a special training session Sunday in preparation for Balloons Over Mt. Vernon Oct. 18 and 19.
The hour-long course, taught by event organizers Jennifer and Kevin Witzel, was held at the Mt. Vernon Airport. It covered a number of key factors related to hot air ballooning, but safety was the dominant theme.
“Safety is the number one thing we're going to stress,” said Jennifer Witzel. “Some people have never touched a balloon. Some people have helped with a balloon. So it's just going to be a wide variety of folks.”
The volunteers attending Sunday's course will be part of the crews assisting hot air balloon pilots during Balloons Over Mt. Vernon. At least 10 pilots are expected to participate.
The event, held the same weekend as Fall Fest, will begin Friday, Oct. 18, with a balloon flight over downtown Mt. Vernon at 5 p.m., followed by a Balloon Glow for United Way at 6:30 p.m.
Then, on Saturday, Oct. 19, pilots will take a flight across the area starting from the airport at 7 a.m. There will then be another flight over downtown Mt. Vernon at 4:30 p.m.
To make the flights more fun, pilots will be given disposable cameras and be asked to take part in a photo contest. The pilots who take the best pictures of certain area landmarks — like the new water tower or the ferris wheel downtown — will win prizes.
Crew volunteers will perform a variety of tasks during the event. Among them are helping to assemble and inflate the balloons, riding in the chase vehicle and tracking the balloons as they fly, and helping with the landing and clean up.
“It sounds like it's going to be a great event for Mt. Vernon,” said Marcia Scott of Bluford, who attended the course with her husband, Mike. “But I think I have a lot to learn.”
Sunday's class was intended to be a brief overview of what's expected of the crew.
Topics covered included: wearing proper attire, how to remove the balloon from the trailer, the proper way to grip the balloon fabric, being careful of the balloon fan and flame, crowd control, watching for power lines, and more.
Several of the volunteers Sunday were new to hot air ballooning. MaryAnn Henderson of Bluford said she was both nervous and excited about the upcoming festival.
“It's kind of scary, but I think it's going to be fun,” Henderson said. “I just like it that the pilot and the crew chief are always going to be around, so I don't think we're going to be thrown to the wolves.”
Don Lewis of Mt. Vernon, an airport volunteer, served on ground crews for balloons many years ago and viewed Sunday's seminar as a refresher course. He said ballooning still holds a great appeal to him.
“It's fun. It's a little different,” Lewis said. “I've been up (in a balloon). It's a fantastic ride.”
Organizers hope Balloons Over Mt. Vernon will become an annual festival.
“Balloons are always a neat thing and I think it's just a nice attraction to bring to town,” Jennifer Witzel said.
For more information on the event, visit the Balloons Over Mt. Vernon Facebook page.