Back in 1986, the folks at the United Way of Cleveland decided to drum up some attention for charity as part of the Balloonfest ’86 which took place on September 27th.
Tom Holowach was the project manager for the event and said this:
I was the Project Manager for this event. I worked on it for 6 months and lived in Cleveland for a month preparing for it. We had to design a structure this filled a city square and could stand up to 90 MPH winds, which was building code. The one-piece net was fabricated by the exact company I found in So Cal who built the cargo nets for the Space Shuttle. Kids in schools “sold” balloon sponsorships at 2 for a dollar that went to United Way. The goal was 2 million but we stopped at 1.4 + million.
The coordinators were trying to break a world record by releasing 1.5 millions balloons in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Once the balloons were released, it was like an explosion of colors in the sky. Thom Sheridan was able to capture some nice shots of the balloons just moments after release.
However, it was all about to go wrong when an approaching storm pushed all the balloons right back over the city into a huge cloud of plastic.
Unfortunately, two people lost their lives as a result after their boat overturned while fishing on the lake because rescue helicopters were unable to differentiate them from the mass of balloons. The rescue pilots described the scene like if they were flying through an asteroid field.
The event which was supposed to raise money for charity, ended up costing them millions in lawsuits and clean up efforts.