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Why You Shouldn’t Release 1.5 Million Helium Balloons All at Once
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Balloon fest ’86 was a 1986 event in which the United Way of Cleveland in Ohio set a world record by releasing one and a half million balloons. The event was supposed to be a fundraiser for charity, but ended up in two deaths, costing the city millions of dollars in lawsuits, and leaving a devastating environmental impact.


The event was an attempt to break the world record for biggest simultaneous balloon launch. Disneyland’s 30th Birthday, the year before in Anaheim, California, according to Gizmodo, was the reigning champion.

The sight of 1.5 million balloons rising to the sky must have been a pretty incredible sight, but what was originally intended to be a fundraising publicity stunt brought unintended consequences. There was a storm was moving in from the Great Lakes on that day, according to Viral Forest, and the winds pushed the balloons back down over the city. The balloons drifted back over the city and land in the surrounding area and Lake Erie, and interfered with traffic at a nearby airport. It has been reported that Burke Lakefront Airport had to shut down a runway after many balloons landed there.

According to Viral Forest, the event resulted in lawsuits against the organizers and against the city seeking millions of US dollars for damages. On the day of the event,  two fishermen, Raymond Broderick and Bernard Sulzer, had gone out and when they failed to return, were reported missing by their families the day of the event. The Coast Guard rescue team were unable to tell the difference between the drowning boaters and the balloons that covered the surface of the water. On September 29, the Coast Guard suspended its search. Within a couple of weeks, the fishermen’s bodies washed ashore. The wife of one of the fishermen who had drowned sued the United Way of Cleveland and also the company that organized the event for $3.2 million and also settled for an undisclosed amount.

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It has been reported that some of the Balloons landed on a pasture in Medina County, Ohio, and spooked Louise Nowakowsk’s Arabian horses, which consequently suffered permanent injuries. Louise Nowakowsk sued the United Way of Cleveland for $100,000 in damages and settled for undisclosed terms.

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