In 1986, The United Way of Cleveland thought they had the perfect idea to generate a little publicity and create a beautiful spectacle in the process. With a huge crowd of volunteers working frantically for days, 1.5 million helium balloons were filled and placed under an enormous net. After a highly anticipated countdown every single balloon was released at once into the city sky. Unfortunately, they had no idea the horrible outcome they would unleash by doing so, and their tragic mistake led to the deaths of two people and millions of dollars in damages through lawsuits. Not to mention weeks of clean up.
In 1986, The United Way Of Cleveland released 1.5 million balloons into the sky of downtown Cleveland in an attempt to break the world record.
Volunteers worked for hours on end to create this spectacle. They filled the balloons under a giant net which when opened released 1.5 million balloons up into the sky.
The massive balloon cloud rose into the skyline like an explosion of color.
What was supposed to be a tremendous publicity stunt quickly turned into a tragic event.
A storm was moving in from the Great Lakes and pushed the balloons back down over the city of Cleveland.
With no way to escape, the sky was filled with an impenetrable wall of colorful balloons.
There were so many balloons that the city was actually covered in shade. Nobody could see through the massive colorful cloud.
Tragically two people died when the U.S. Coast Guard helicopters were unable to reach an overturned boat. It was simply too dangerous to fly in a sky filled with 1.5 million balloons.
The Coast Guard crew said it was like flying through an asteroid field. These balloons would have brought down the rescue crew if they attempted to fly into it.
When the Coast Guard was finally able to search the waters, they couldn’t tell the difference between the heads of drowning victims and the balloons in the water.
In one case, the balloons scared a woman’s horse so bad that it seriously injured itself. She sued for $100,000.
This publicity stunt was supposed to be for charity. Instead it cost the city of Cleveland 2 lives, millions of dollars and weeks of cleaning up trash.
To get a sense of what the Cleveland balloon release of 1986 felt like, take a look at this news footage taken on that tragic day.
It’s so sad that what was supposed to be a day of celebration for charity resulted in such a tragedy. Nobody had any idea of what might happen if 1.5 million balloons were released into the sky. This is exactly why so much planning goes into events these days. Sometimes the most innocent acts can snowball into something that is out of control.