Fitzgerald community remembers hot air balloon accident - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Fitzgerald community remembers hot air balloon accident

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Balloons take flight Saturday afternoon Balloons take flight Saturday afternoon
Organizers say the event remembers Ed Ristaino Organizers say the event remembers Ed Ristaino
Edward's son Damien continues to skydive across the country Edward's son Damien continues to skydive across the country
Community remembers Edward's love for the sky Community remembers Edward's love for the sky
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FITZGERALD, GA (WALB) -

It's been nearly 8 months since a man in Fitzgerald was killed after his hot air balloon crashed during a bad thunderstorm.

Saturday, the city rekindled his memory with the first annual Harmony Jubilee event.

Crews lit flames into the large canopies of several hot air balloon Saturday afternoon.

A ritual Edward Ristaino often did before his fatal accident last March.

"We stood there and watched, literally watched his balloon go up into those storm clouds and then we heard the ambulance, we didn't know what it was," says one of the organizers Steve Mixon.

It was the sound of police searching for his missing balloon after it disappeared in a sudden thunderstorm. A search that would last four days until Ristaino's balloon basket and his body was found in the nearby woods.

But the city of Fitzgerald would always remember those giant balloons, not for taking the life of Ristaino, but for his love of being in the sky.

"It's just you and the open air and that's what he enjoyed the most about it is true escapism. No matter what is going on in your life, when your in the air by yourself like that nothing else exist," says Edward's oldest son Damien Ristaino.

Damien has followed in his father's footsteps - competing in skydiving events all over the county. He says his father's love of adventure is continued with him.

"What he told me was to immerse myself completely into something that I really like to do and you can get the most benefit out of it. If there's something you want to learn, set your fears aside and get in there and do it," says Damien.

And folks say the hot air balloon event was nothing short of a success.

"To see all of these people turn out here, especially a lot of these balloonist are here in memory of Ed and it's just really a touching thing to see," says Mixon.

Those who knew Ristaino say he didn't die in vain. If anything, his love of for the skies will encourage even the youngest to dream big.

The event kicked off on Friday with a band. And balloon crews will hit the skies again Sunday morning at 7 for the last flight of the weekend.

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