As Murphy’s Law states, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”, and this certainly proved to be true when the city of Cleveland released a record breaking number of balloons into the air as part of a fundraiser.
Even with the best planning and preparation, a well-intended act can turn into an ill-fated disaster, as Cleveland found out on this unforgettable day in 1986.
The balloon release was part of a fundraiser for the charity United Way in which they attempted to break the world record for the largest numbers of balloons simultaneously launched, a record previously broke the year before during Disney’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
The preparation for this stunt took many months and over 2500 volunteers helped out to inflate over 2 million balloons. But nothing could prepare the city for the horror that was about to take place after the release of the balloons.
The balloons, enough to fill an entire city block, were released at 1:15 pm on Saturday 27th September 1986, and delighted spectators as they went up in the air.
But things started to go sour when the balloons collided with a front of cool air and rain, resulting in the balloons dropping towards the ground while still inflated.
The balloons clogged the land and waterways of Northeast Ohio, filling Lake Erie and the land around it.
A rescue attempt was under way to save two fishermen who had went missing and the balloons disrupted this so much that the search had to be suspended because of poor visibility. Subsequently, the men drowned and their bodies eventually washed ashore.
Aside from this tragedy, several road accidents were also reported due to the balloons, flights were canceled, and animals were harmed. Once racehorse owner even sued United Way for damages to his horse.
The failed launched continued to cause damage to the environment for months after.
Because of this disastrous event, fundraisers now know exactly what not to do in future. It might go down in history as one of the most i’ll-conceived ideas ever.
But if it’s any consolation, the event was later recognized as the “largest ever balloon release”, in the 1998 Guinness Book of World Records, with 1,429,643 balloons released.