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05 November 2005

"The last street before ... Nothing"

A week ago (Saturday,October 31st) another big moment had come for Wilhelm Eimers. After many hours of hard work he was ready to present his movie of the last Gordon Bennett race to all the helpers and to his friends the gas balloonists. First something to eat and drink and then ... Willi had a regrettable announcement to make. Instead of the promised 40 minutes there would be 50 minutes of film (lol). The movie was magnificent and showed all the preparations, the beautiful flight, the suspenseful landing and the trip back to Albuquerque. Comic situations and funny expressions were registered and presented to the audience as well.

Below we tried to translate the story of Willi and Ulrich for you.

Die letzte Stasse vor dem Nichts

A major race in an enormous country. New records in abundance. We regret to say that also a serious accident happened, but fortunately things didn't end in a drama. I want to wish Richard Abruzzo, last year's winner, a speedy recovery!

First I'd like to thank all the people in the background. Without them I couldn't have participated in this big and very expensive race! First there are Pam and Pat from Albuquerque. And at home our sponsor Warstein, the DFSV and our family (the most important link in this chain of people) helped us to realize this dream. In Ulrich Seel I found a worthy replacement for my friend and co-pilot Bernd Landsmann.

For the very first time I went to the Gordon Bennett competition with the smallest crew possible: only Benjamin. He was his own crew chief, instead of Karl-Werner Becker from Krefeld, who fulfilled this very important job for over 10 years. Of course Benjamin wouldn't be able to cope with the 7600 km distance all alone, so some American friends promised to help us. My American co-pilot in the 2004 America's Challenge, Greg from Rotester, was our second helper and he lent us his retrieve car. Thanks, Greg!

Once more the starting margin was too small, which is very common in the USA. We are not hot air balloon pilots who only want to fly one or two hours. If I want to take off for a 40- or 70 hour flight I need time to prepare. Time to assure a safe flight by checking and double checking all the technical equipment. A 'heavy' Wörner gas balloon, filled with helium and flying at the altitude of 4100 m, can only stay 2 nights in the air. After 10 flights through thunder storms and considering the dangerous conditions of last year we decided to fly on helium. And ... this year we saw no thunder storms nearby or far away. That's life...

Above landscapes that only slowly change, it is possible to fly at hight speeds, although a landing at 50 or 60 km/hr is not advisable. At the start we had set as a goal to land near the last Canadian road before the big "Nothing", but we did not intend to fly 3000 km. In the end it still became a precision flight. After 2702 km we landed 50 metres beside this last road, but we had to work very hard to get down safely. The reason: high voltage cables on both sides of the road. We had to land 80 metres in front of the road in a dense wood, and to pull ourselves from tree to tree until we saw a small strip of grass where we could land.

After 30 minutes a very surprised land owner reached us. He really thought we had crashed. We were allowed to use his 'fishing cabine' for the night and he brought us bread and wine. We could store the basket, all the equipment and the folded balloon in his garage, where everything was well protected against the rain and bad weather of that night and the morning after.

In the afternoon the crew reached us. By midnight we saw the Niagar Falls and 40 hours later we drove into ABQ. Just in time for the lasagne party of Peter and Barbara.

We ended second. The Coupe Gordon Bennett really is the most difficult gas balloon race in the world!

Wilhelm Eimers

Posted by Marianne at 9:16 AM

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