This Gordon Bennett would most likely never have been held in Belgium had we not had Albert Vanden Bemden.

Born in 1918, Albert was the link between the ‘modern’ hot air balloon generation of 1970-till-now and the pre-second world war balloonists.

He was – so to say – born in a balloon: his father was the Belgian pilot Félix Vanden Bemden who, in the beginning of the 20th century, constructed balloons, stocked them, and prepared them for the balloonists to fly. Félix was Ernest Demuyters’ Balloonmeister during many of his Gordon Bennett adventures.

Albert obtained his pilot licence in 1937. He made over 400 gas balloon flights! He flew over the Alps in 1962! And participated in 1979 in the ‘alternative’ Gordon Bennett Balloon Race organised in Long Beach, California, USA.

He was a born story teller and it was HE who got the Belgian Hot Air Balloonists enthusiast to start flying Gas. He was a most charismatic man. Philippe De Cock, Ronny Van Havere, Benoît Siméons, Bob Berben, Luc Van Geyte… they all hung at his lips when he was telling them of the adventures he had lived.
He had known Ernest Demuyter, 6fold Gordon Bennett winner, since childhood.
In the beginning of 2006 Alberts health had turned badly, he hurried to finish his memoires, and the whole Belgian ballooning community prayed that this Gordon Bennett Centenary would be honoured with his presence.

Yet he passed away on April 10, 2006. A true ballooning Monument had died.

Others in the Gordon Bennett history have to be regretted too:

Until 1998 no Gordon-Bennett-Race was cancelled or even postponed because of weather conditions. Snowstorms and rain often have struck the pilots with a lot of stress. It also often took days, until the first signs of life reached the championship organisation after landing and, let's remember 1908, sometimes it was believed, that some competitors had not survived the flight. But it had always ended well. 1923 became the most tragic of all competitions. 21 balloons were inflated in bright sunshine on Solbosch plain near Bruxelles. The stands and places for spectators were well crowded. The wind wasn't very strong in the beginning, but quite gusty. Launch preparations were on the run, when the sky darkened and a heavy thunderstorm came up. Lightening flashed through the clouds, soon rain clattered down in heavy drops, followed by hail. With this wind it might have been very difficult for the launch crews to level out the balloons. Overall, all lifted only slowly and then had to dump a lot of ballast immediately to prevent them from crashing against the nearby houses. In the rush, whole sandbags flew overboard. It is a miracle, that no spectator, who stayed there in spite of the thunderstorm, got hurt. They did not see anything from the disasters that followed now for the balloons had already gone out of sight. First it met the Spanish balloon POLAR. After half an hour of flight he was above Heist op den Berg, when a flash of lightening struck its envelope, set the gas on fire and sent him burning back to earth. Co-pilot Penaranda did not survive the fall, Gomez was lucky, he survived, both legs broken. 40 minutes later a flash of lightening struck the Swiss balloon GENF with the pilots von Grüningen and Wehren. Both met death when the burning balloon sank to earth at Moll. The same happened to the Americans Olmstead and Choptaw, killed by lightening at Loosbroek (near Oss). There was no radio on board in those days. The other competitors got no news of the tragic occurrences if they had not seen them by themselves. They had to deal with the awful weather alone and landed very soon after short flights.

In 1983 there where two races scheduled at the same time, the Coupe Gordon Bennett and the one for ‘Charles et Robert’, were not very lucky. The Place de la Concorde was a wonderful location and thousands of spectators had come. The whole airspace over Paris was kept free for the time of the launch, but then a heavy thunderstorm approached. Some of the 18 balloons in both races started before the first flash, the rest after the thunderstorm was over. So conditions were not equal for all. In the ‘COUPE CHARLES ET ROBERT’, Americans Maxie L. Anderson and Don Ida had launched in front of the thunderstorm. The speedy wind from the west drove them to Northern Bavaria towards the frontier to Czechoslovakia. They had to landed before it. In a forest clearance near the village of Schönderling in the county of Bad Kissingen they tried it and lost their lives. CHARLES ET ROBERT (constructors of the first gas balloon) had earned a bitter honour. This cup was never competed for again.

The grand event in ballooning, Coupe Gordon Bennett, lifted off from Wil, Switzerland on Saturday 9 September 1995. The 15 teams from seven countries had excellent conditions and it appeared that new records might be set for this prestigious event.
A number teams had stayed in the air two nights. And then three nights. As reports of the team’s progress filtered in one could sense the excitement. This year’s event was going to be a true test of which team could fly the longest.
By Wednesday morning, September 13, four teams were reported to be still in the air. Then the magic of this event was shattered by an AP wire story from Minsk, Belarus. Two Americans flying a balloon had been shot down and killed by a Belarussian military helicopter near the Polish border.
The shooting occurred on Tuesday, September 12. The Belarus government waited 24 hours to inform the U.S. Embassy that the two pilots, who were carrying American passports, had been killed.
Alan Fraenckel, 55, and John Stuart-Jervis, 68, representing the Virgin Islands, had been shot down after crossing into Belarus airspace from Poland and, according to an official statement from Belarus, failed to respond to radio calls and warning shots. Their balloon was reported to be near the Osovtsy military base and an adjoining missile base.
Both pilots were reported to have died from injuries suffered when their deflated balloon fell to the forest floor near Beryoza, about 60 miles from the Polish border.

The FAI said in a statement, "We are concerned that this incident will damage international relations. This is the exact opposite of what the sport of ballooning and FAI seek to achieve, which is

to bring together the peoples of the world.

"We are therefore determined not to let this incident affect future Coupe Gordon Bennett races and other air sport events. We intend to continue conducting races across international borders, whilst respecting the legal requirements of each sovereign state regarding airspace penetration.

During the 51th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett all pilots and crews, all officials, all balloonists, all balloon fanatics will remember those who past away.
And the Belgians will all send a special prayer for Albert Vanden Bemden.

Yet love is the answer to our mourning.
To Fientje, Alberts beloved wife, who could ever be seen at his side, the love for her husband was greater than her desire of living. Two months after her husband she passed away. In our eyes these beautiful peope will live on together for ever.