NEAR SAN DIEGO (Sim Barhoum/NBC/KNSD) — A newly engaged couple went for the ride of their life Sunday when their sunset hot air balloon ride ended with an emergency landing on a beach near San Diego in southern California. Eric Barretto was proposing to his fiancée when their hot air balloon drifted off course and veered over the water near Cardiff-by-the-Sea.
“Oh, my goodness. He’s going to jump. They’re going to have to jump. They’re going to jump,” said Justin Lyons, who recounts what he was thinking when he saw the balloon by the beach. “I thought someone was going to jump out. They fired it back up. It went back up.”
Back up and eventually back down, right into the surf. The pilot said the hot air balloon got caught up in winds pushing it west.
“The best thing to do was get it to the surf — have the water push us in using the onshore winds,” said hot air balloon pilot Tim.
It made for a once-in-a-lifetime experience on the heels of another.
“My fiancée and I were getting engaged up there, and next thing you know, the balloon was veering off toward the water. And we couldn’t get our way back to land. The air up there was so stagnant; it was just going straight down. No matter what the pilot tried, we couldn’t go back this way,” said Barretto.
The pilot says in his 12 years of flying, this was a first.
“I’m a retired Marine,” he said. “We’ve been in tough situations before; a lot of those skills are transferrable.”
The basket took several waves. After several attempts to get the balloon under control, the pilot finally threw a line to some surfers to help pull the balloon back to shore. And with the help of Encinitas lifeguards and surfers at Cardiff Reef, the balloon made it back to shore.
“Good job, everybody,” said the lifeguard team. “That was a pretty unique call.”
“It could have been a lot worse,” said Tim. “It could have been a great deal worse.”
As for getting engaged in a hot air balloon minutes before it made a surf landing: “It’s unforgettable. That’s all I can say,” said Barretto. “I don’t know if we’ll do it again.”
No one came away with any injuries, and the couple left with a marriage proposal to surely last a lifetime.