That Day in 1986 When Cleveland Released 1.5 Million Balloons into the Air and People Died

On September 27, 1986, the charity organization United Way attempted to set a world record by simultaneously releasing 1.7 million balloons into the air.

Needless to say, things didn’t go quite as planned.

Initially, 2,500 volunteers aimed to fill two million balloons with helium, but due to weather concerns they stopped their efforts short.

Then, at 1:50 p.m. that Saturday afternoon, the net was hoisted and the balloons were sent flying into the sky. As they began gaining altitude, a front of cold air forced the balloons back down on the ground, causing havoc throughout the city. The airport was shut down and streets were a complete, colorful mess.

A majority of them landed on the surface of Lake Erie, where the Coast Guard just so happened to be looking for two fisherman who vanished the day before.

Unfortunately, their bodies were later discovered.

United Way was later sued by one of their wives, claiming that the balloons made it impossible to pinpoint their location.

In the weeks following the chaotic incident, thousands of balloons continued to wash up on the shoreline.

Images: Bettmann/Corbis/Thom Sheridan
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