Balloonfest 1986, A Spectacular Stunt For Fundraising And Publicity Turned into Cleveland’s Disaster Story

The Balloonfest 1986 outcome was far from what “United Way” had intended. Two deaths, millions in lawsuits, and a devastating environmental impact.

Balloonfest 1986, A Spectacular Stunt For Fundraising And Publicity Turned into Cleveland’s Disaster Story
Cleveland Balloon Fest 1986 Turned into Cleveland’s Disaster Story

Cleveland Balloonfest Threw An Entire City Into Total Nightmare

September 27th, 1986

It was an event known as Balloonfest and its aim was to raise funds and create some publicity for the charity organisation, United Way of Cleveland. Though the event was a spectacle and a world record that resulted in an environmental disaster the likes of which no one had ever seen before.

Cleveland Balloon Fest 1986

1986 was also the year when the nonprofit organization, United Way in Cleveland, Ohio released a staggering 1.5 million balloons into the air in an attempt to raise money for charity and break the record for the “biggest simultaneous launch”, which at the time was held by Disney who broke it for its 30th birthday. While the sight of 1.5 million balloons being released must have been amazing to see, the outcome was far from pleasant.

Cleveland Balloon Fest 1986

Cleveland had just broken a world record. Enough latex to fill a small office block was now being carried upwards into the air above the city, free to be buffeted by the winds.

Cleveland Balloon Fest 1986

The weather had different plans. Within hours, the spectacular sight of Terminal Tower consumed by helium-filled balloons was marred by winds and rain. It sent balloons to the ground prematurely onto the surface of city’s Lake Erie, where a Coast Guard helicopter was searching for two fisherman who had disappeared the day before. Tragically, two people died when rescue Coast Guard helicopters were unable to reach their overturned boat. Days later, the dead bodies surfaced and one of the deceased’s wife sued the charity but settled for a huge a amount later. One of the widows who drowned in Lake Erie fishermen sued the “United Way” for $ 3.2 million, and as horse owners, ultimately received the money.

Cleveland Balloon Fest 1986

The whole event was supposed to be a fundraiser for charity, but ended up costing the city millions in lawsuits, and created cleanup headaches for weeks. While the sight of 1.5 million balloons rising to the sky must have been an incredible sight to behold, the outcome was far from what they had intended. Two deaths, millions in lawsuits, and a devastating environmental impact.