NEW CASTLE —
An opportunity to check an item off your bucket list doesn’t happen every day.
For Art Hautala, yesterday was a day that he got to check something from his. An item on his list was to ride in a hot air balloon.
Thanks to Louis Merryman, Hautala and his daughter, Ashley, got to take a balloon ride from Wilmington High School to Neshannock High School.
Hautala said hot air balloons always sparked his interest. Seeing them always made him wonder what it would be like to go up in one, and even the process behind it.
Merryman has been piloting hot air balloon rides since 1996. From out of town shows to the annual Balloon Quest, Merryman said taking out the balloon has always been a fun way to spend time with his family.
While Merryman and his family prepared the balloon for takeoff, Hautala said he was feeling no nerves.
“If I’ve been on C-130’s 30,000 feet up in Vietnam, I think I can handle this,” he said.
C-130 is an aircraft used for military transport.
Hautala, his daughter, Ashley, and Merryman took flight shortly after 7 p.m. On the ground, Merryman’s family communicated with him via walkie-talkie to help him determine a safe place to land.
Their landing occurred just behind Neshannock High. Hautala’s first reaction upon landing, he shouted, “I loved it!”
Smiling in excitement after the ride, he said he would do it again in a heartbeat.
“It was well worth it,” he said. “You’re not that high, it’s just peaceful up there.”
He said their trip was smooth, and that the whole experience was like a gift. Hautala said he understands why Merryman’s been doing this for so many years after he got his chance to take a ride.
“Ashley loved it, too,” he said. “It was better than any Cedar Point ride any day.”
After the team packed the balloon back into the trailer, Merryman gathered everyone together for a traditional toast with champagne.
Merryman, his balloon, and his crew will all be present at this year’s Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park. The event kicks off this evening with “Balloon Glow.”
He said he will be there as earlier as 6 a.m. over the weekend and that rides in the morning are unlike any other.
For Merryman, the ride was just another notch on his belt but for Hautala it was a valuable check for his bucket list.
Balloon Quest continues through the weekend and balloons are scheduled to launch at 7 p.m. today, and at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday, all weather permitting.
The Bryan Cole Show will perform on stage after the launch Saturday, and games are from 2 to 11 p.m.
Sunday’s launch is schedule for 7 a.m.
Wise Guyz Band will be on stage from 7 to 10:30 p.m., Sunday, and carnival rides, food and games will run from 2 to 11 p.m.
Fireworks by Pyrotecnico will conclude most of the festivities at 10:30 p.m.