A police hot air balloon flew low through a Gloucester County development on Sunday surprising neighbours as it randomly landed in a homeowner’s backyard.
But while the landing of a 100-foot tall balloon along Whitney Avenue in Clayton, N.J. was random, it was not an emergency — rather a planned descent.
In Clayton and surrounding towns, these “random landings” are a common occurrence thanks to nearby Deptford Township’s First and Finest Balloon Crew.
Started by former Deptford Police Lieutenant Steve Moylan in 1998, First and Finest was created as a community relations tool for the town’s law enforcement.
When the weather permits, the balloon crew goes for hour-long flights. The crew aren’t your typical pilots. They’re comprised of volunteer police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and civilians that are certified to fly the black-and-gold hot air balloon bearing the Deptford Police logo.
When the pilot is ready to land, a chase crew — or on-the-ground support team that follows the balloon as it flies — sets out to find a potential landing spot. After scouting out a good yard for a landing, they ask homeowners for permission.
“We could land in the middle of nowhere, but where is the fun in that?” Moylan says.
The balloon, which spews 25 foot long flames, is then lowered into the homeowner’s yard. Once back on solid ground, the team moves the aircraft into the street and offers free tethered rides to children in the neighborhood.
Moylan says this is exactly what took place on Sunday in Clayton.
In a video posted online showing the balloon’s random Whitney Avenue landing, the team could be seen moving the aircraft, which dwarfed nearby homes, into the street. The crew then gave up-and-down rides to the people who had gathered around the landing site, including a wheelchair-bound child.
These random landings can be planned in as little as five minutes. “Landing is not an exact science,” Moylan says. “We are always looking for a place to land while flying.”
While the landings are not scheduled in advance, Moylan says the Balloon Crew is fully-qualified and in compliance with all FAA rules and regulations. He also says Clayton Police were on-scene for the landing. Officials tell NBC10.com, however, that they had no record of the landing.
Moylan admits when the balloon first started flying in the 1990s, some people called 911 concerned a disaster was about to take place. But he says most people now know the balloon crew’s motive and look forward to the First and Finest random landings.
“We get a lot of waves, beeps, and thumbs up from people on the ground,” Moylan says.
He hopes knowledge about the balloon and its residential landings continues to grow in the Deptford area.