FREDERICKTOWN — Nearly three dozen Waterford-area residents received a surprise Monday evening when hot air balloonist Gary Tyo dropped in.
Tyo, who was taking his niece and her husband for a ride, spotted the home of Levi Yoder, a business acquaintance.
“I saw his house from up above. I thought it would be neat to drop down, and the wind just took us there,” Tyo said. “There was only one house between Levi and the school.”
After Tyo landed the multi-colored balloon in the school yard, Amish children and adults, as well as non-Amish from the neighborhood, moved in for a closer look. Tyo began to take onlookers on a ride with a view from above the tree tops.
“We went up 75 to 100 feet,” Tyo said. “The Amish were reluctant to get in. Pretty soon, a couple of Amish boys — maybe 12 to 14 years old — took part and the rest joined in.”
Tyo said around 35 children and adults went up in the balloon Monday.
A line attached to the basket, held by a Tyo family member, kept the craft from floating away. Depending on wind speed, the basket could be tethered to a tree for safety.
“You have to have very calm winds to tether,” he said.
Stephanie Fesler was at her parents’ farm baling hay when the balloon landed.
“It landed right next to the Amish school. He took Amish kids for a ride and anyone else that wanted to go,” Fesler said. “It was pretty amazing.”
Tyo, who has been piloting balloons for 28 years, explained that balloons pretty much travel wherever the wind takes them. Winds travel at different speeds, and different directions, depending on how high the balloon travels.
“You are simply at the mercy of the winds,” he said.
Because of the unpredictability of the winds, someone normally follows him on the ground — a chaser — in case he runs into trouble, and to bring him, and the balloon, back home.
“No one had a better time than I did,” Tyo said. “It’s fun to fly, but I like to land and see how others react to going up in the balloon.”
Tyo said the extra trips cost him about $40 in propane but that it’s money well spent just to give someone the opportunity to go up, and to see the smiles on the faces of his passengers.