Santa floats away in runaway balloon

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MIDVALE — It wasn't a house top or a sleigh that Santa Claus was on Friday morning, but a hot air balloon.

But the last thing he wanted was to go crashing down a chimney. Or worse, into a tree or power lines.

A runaway balloon briefly carried a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit away Friday after a hard landing at an elementary school knocked the balloon's pilot out of the basket and Santa floated away in the craft.

As part of annual traditional, a hot air balloon carrying Santa was going to land at Midvale Elementary School, near 7800 South and 200 East, about 10:20 a.m. and pass out candy to awaiting children.

The balloon, however, approached the landing area a little too quickly Friday. The basket ended up hitting the ground hard.

"(The basket) tipped sideways, and the pilot fell out," said Midvale Police Sgt. Chad Egan.

Daniel Luker, who was walking his dog at the time and witnessed the accident, said it looked from his perspective that the pilot was actually tossed from the basket.

"He was just going a little bit too fast. I could hear them pulling the gas. One of the guys was thrown from the basket," he said.

Shortly after, the balloon rose into the air again with Santa still on board and started heading toward trees and power lines.

"It just barely cleared it," Luker said.

Santa had a two-way radio on board with him and was able to talk to the ground crew that was now chasing him.

"Everybody was running, so I assumed something was going wrong," he said. "Santa was actually pretty calm. He kept asking, 'What do I do? What rope do I pull?'"

About a minute after the balloon got away, Santa was able to get the balloon low enough over an apartment complex parking lot, near 6800 South State, where ground crews were able to grab the tether ropes.

"He actually did a pretty good job for not being a reindeer," Egan said of Santa's flying abilities.

Neither Santa nor anyone on the ground was injured.

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