February 22, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines - Everyone’s eyes were turned towards the sky during the 14th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival held from Feb. 12-15 at the Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.
Starting as a simple sporting event in 1994, then secretary of tourism Mina Gabor commissioned two balloon pilots from Korea and England for the event. Since then, the Hot Air Balloon Festival has become a full-blown spectacle.
As if last year’s 19 balloons were not enough, the 14th Hot Air Balloon Festival saw some 24 balloons soar through the sky. Among them were uniquely shaped balloons – a giant Coca-Cola bottle, Nescafe and DSV coffee mugs, a Kellogg’s balloon, a telephone booth, and even an elephant.
Ground traffic was not as free flowing as the balloons floating above, as hordes of spectators came to witness the aerial show. The upswell of more than 15,000 spectators on a perfect Saturday morning – Valentine’s day at that – was virtually unprecedented. The organizers from the Clark Development Corporation and the Philippine Balloon Foundation were expecting 100,000 visitors throughout the duration of the four-day festival.
This year’s festival showcased special aerosports events such as skydiving, light airplane balloon bursting competitions, Filipino/Malaysian/Thai paragliding exhibitions, an AFP flag jump, and formation flying. Less daring, but equally entertaining, were the choreographed kite flying and the remote control aircraft demo flying.
On ground, the festivities continued with a bazaar, high speed car drifting shows, performances by the Philippine Air Force band, and the San Fernando Giant Lantern parade.
The highlight of the last two nights was a fireworks display and a Night Glow show where the balloons were fired up and transformed into giant luminous lanterns as they drifted in the night sky.