To many, Brian Boland was known as the “Balloon Man.” Now, across Vermont and beyond, fellow balloonists are mourning the 72-year-old Post Mills man who fell to his death during a flight last week.
“We rue the days when we have to have days like today,” said Mark West, president of the Balloon Federation of America.
Last Thursday, Boland, 72, and four passengers took off from the Post Mills Airport in Thetford, which Boland owned and operated. Later into the ride, the balloon descended, making contact with the ground. According to Vermont State Police, the basket tipped and one passenger fell out.
The balloon re-ascended, tangling Boland in the gear. He became trapped under the basket and fell. The balloon floated for another mile and a half before getting caught in tree in Piermont, New Hampshire, allowing the three remaining passengers to safely climb down.
West said Boland’s reputation as a balloonist “was really built on word-of-mouth by people who were just enamored with what he was doing and he really built that reputation for himself.”
A Connecticut Valley Spectator article archived in the Thetford Historical Society said Boland found ballooning in 1970 and quickly made it his livelihood. He even built his own balloons.
“Over the years, Brian has welcomed balloon makers from around the world to intern with him to learn the secrets of creating balloons,” the article said.
A 1988 Valley News article said Boland holds the world record for the altitude reached in a “hot air ship.” On a flight from France to Luxembourg he reached a height of 16,200 feet.”
Those who knew Boland shared their memories on Facebook. A neighbor remembers that he once needed to use his boat as a landing sight.
“One day we saw him overtop the lake. And it was getting sort of dark. And we drove the boat over to him. He lowered down and he was talking to us and there wasn’t going to be a good opportunity for him to land and he actually asked if he could land on our boat,” said Burnet.
“He brought it right down on the bow and a couple of us were grabbing the balloon because it was falling on top of us and we were covered in the thing. We actually bagged it up and we brought him back to his airport.”
Burnet says Boland offered to take him on a ride the next day as a thank you. “So that was the first time I got to see the area from above. It was a really special experience,” said Burnet.
Justin “Spanky” Roman loved Boland’s Museum of Rusty Dusty Stuff, which he visited several times.
“If anything, airplanes actually kind of scare me. But what I fell in love with was this rusty, dusty museum. I’m into all things old and into cool, collectible stuff. What’s fascinating was because of his air balloon flying, he had a bird’s eye view of all these things,” Roman said. “We’re talking old fire trucks, old cars, old motorcycles. So just his things of old things was just fascinating,” said Roman.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Association (FAA) will continue to investigate the incident. A preliminary report will likely be available on the NTSB website in the next 12 days.