The story behind the 1st Balloon Fiesta

Posted at: 10/13/2013 8:50 AM
Updated at: 10/13/2013 11:09 AM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A lot of good stories come out of Balloon Fiesta every year, but maybe one of the best stories is how it all began.

The year was 1971 and Sid Cutter was throwing a party for his company, Cutter Aviation.

"I was going to decorate it in World War I airplane themes, but they're very delicate and they're hard to come by and were expensive," Cutter told KOB Eyewitness News 4 in a 2008 interview. "I was going to suspend them from the rafters and stuff."

When he couldn't find what he was looking for, he switched gears and decided to go with a hot air balloon.

No one flew the balloon at the Cutter party... It was just a pretty decoration. But the next day, the Cutter brothers decided to take it for a ride, even though they had no experience flying one.

"My brother knocks on the door at six in the morning and I said, 'What are you doing?' I was still in my bath robe," Cutter said. "And he said, 'C'mon we're gonna go flying.' I said, 'We can't fly, we haven't got any gas.' He says, 'Oh yeah, I stopped by the truck stop and filled it up.'"

They lived to talk about it and the next year, KOB radio asked the Cutters if their balloon would be part of its 50th anniversary.

"They said, 'Can we have an ascension?' I said sure. I said, 'How about a balloon race? I know where we can get about three other balloons and we can have a balloon race.' Well, what's a balloon race-- I said, 'I don't know, but we'll find out."

Thirteen balloons showed up, along with a lot of people. Around 20,000—all wanting to know what was going on in the parking lot at Coronado Center.

That moment is now considered the first Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

"It's really been a boom for the state of New Mexico and the city of Albuquerque," Cutter said. "They used to think you had to have a passport to come to Albuquerque or to New Mexico, but now they say, you are where the balloons are."

Cutter lost his battle with cancer in 2011, but he will always be remembered as the founding father of what has become the largest ballooning event in the world.