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Balloonists rescued on St. Croix River near Afton

Things couldn't have been more still or calm Sunday, Aug. 11, on the St. Croix River in Afton - and that's exactly what raised a commotion.

Dead air in the St. Croix valley caused a hot air balloon loaded with 15 people to stall directly over the river at 7:50 p.m. The unusual event required an emergency rescue from the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which was called to assist with a possible river landing.

Jim Gribble, a sergeant with the department's Water, Parks, and Trails Unit, said that while incident ended as calmly as it began, it was unique.

"It's never happened," he said.

At least not in the 18 years Gribble has been with the department.

He said there was no malfunction with the hot air balloon - only with the wind.

"The balloons are at the mercy of the wind, and, well, there was no wind," Gribble said.

When deputies approached the scene, the balloon was about five feet from the water and everyone aboard appeared calm, according to police report. None of the passengers even accepted a deputy's invitation to board his police boat.

The operator of the balloon, which was owned by Stillwater Balloon, told officers he could keep it out of the water but since he was unable to navigate it in any direction, he would need a tow to shore.

A tether line was tied to the boat, which towed the balloon slowly to shore.

The effort, Gribble said, was surprising to officers.

"It's heavy," he said. "You're moving a lot of air."

Other boaters followed with life vests, just in case the balloon lost all power, the report states.

Gribble said the officers towed the boat to St. Croix Beach, where all passengers got out safely.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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