The Doomed Cleveland Balloonfest of 1986
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In 1986, the city of Cleveland Ohio, in conjunction with the United Way, sought to bring the community together by breaking a world record- the most balloons released at one time. The events leading up to the record-setting balloon launch were well received, and with more than 1.5 million balloons made, they were in line to break the existing Guinness World Record.

However, upon launch the weather turned, forcing most of the balloons down onto lake Erie, where they exasperated US Coast Guard rescue attem...

In 1986, the city of Cleveland Ohio, in conjunction with the United Way, sought to bring the community together by breaking a world record- the most balloons released at one time. The events leading up to the record-setting balloon launch were well received, and with more than 1.5 million balloons made, they were in line to break the existing Guinness World Record.

However, upon launch the weather turned, forcing most of the balloons down onto lake Erie, where they exasperated US Coast Guard rescue attempts to find 2 men who went missing on the lake. With so many balloons on the lake, spotting the men proved impossible- their bodies washed ashore some time later. Whether they could have been saved if it hadn't been for the balloons is a mystery.

The balloons themselves washed ashore all across the shores of Lake Erie, as well as flowing into various river systems. Many balloons landed in Canada, leaving debris all throughout the region. Environmentalists condemned the Cleveland event as causing serious harm to protected waterways and habitats, the families of the deceased fishermen sued the United Way and settled for undisclosed sums; and to add insult to injury, the Guinness book of World Records did not recognize the Cleveland event.

It is regarded as one of the worst publicity stunt failures in American History, and cited as a prime example of unintended ecological consequences of improper plastics disposal by environmentalists. There is much to learn from an event that went terribly wrong.

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Published on Jun 17, 2018
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