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Austrian Balloonist Wins Three-Day Race

July 8, 1988

ABOVE THE NEGEV DESERT, Israel (AP) _ An Austrian won Israel’s first international balloon race Friday, capping a three-day event in which more than 40 balloons glided through skies and Israeli fighter planes buzzed overhead.

First place earned Hubert Kusternigg $4,000.

Bill Arras of Redmond, Ore., and Wallace Henderson of Vienna, Va., took second and third places at the International Hot Air Balloon Goodwill Fiesta, organized as part of Israel’s 40th anniversary celebration.

About 40,000 spectators braved scorching heat and dust clouds to watch the colorful 70-foot balloons, which floated thousands of feet above Israel’s southern Negev Desert.

On one balloon, competitor Ron Bush rose to about 5,000 feet in a blue and white striped balloon and then got stuck during a lull in the wind.

Bush, 48, of Lubbock, Texas, didn’t seem worried when he saw that he was far from the target and not moving any closer.

″It’s peaceful up here,″ he said, pushing his Stetson to the back of his neck. ″I’m doing this for fun, not to win competitions.″

The calm was interrupted several times by Israeli fighter planes which flew loops around the balloonists, sometimes buzzing them from only 200 feet away.The planes flew in formation, spewing blue and white smoke, Israel’s national colors.

Forty-one people participated in the race, including 19 from the United States and competitors from Canada, France, Hungary and West Germany.

The competitors were graded on how close they came to a certain target.

Spectators thronged the balloonists between races, asking technical questions and pleading to be taken for a ride.

Balloonist Alfred Riesser, 40, of Vienna, Austria, said his most enjoyable moment came when the wind carried him into a nearby Bedouin tent village.

″A little boy was so afraid that at first he threw a stone and then screamed for his dad,″ Riesser said. ″The adults also didn’t come near us, but then we handed out some stickers with a picture of the balloon and that broke the ice.″

Ted O’Hara, 44, an insurance agent from Schenectady, N.Y., said he was startled Thursday when two men armed with submachine guns rushed to the landing site as he touched down.

It turned out they were spectators trying to help him steady the balloon, he said.

O’Hara said he was not conerned about his safety in Israel, despite a seven-month wave of clashes between Arabs and Jews.

″I heard there’s been shooting in Jerusalem for the last couple of days but I still think it’s safer than in some parts of New York City,″ he said.

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