Blackfoot newlyweds Bart and Rachel Grover could be both the unluckiest and the luckiest people around.
Unlucky because their honeymoon balloon trip turned into a terrifying windswept journey along the Teton peaks and lucky because the balloon ran out of propane before they were dashed to bits on the craggy slopes of the mountains.The couple was married in Blackfoot on April 26 and headed for a Jackson, Wyo., resort to spend their honeymoon. Included in the package was the "Champagne Balloon Ride."
It was supposed to be a pleasant ride in which they and the pilot cruised along the height of the Teton Village ski lift until the balloon caught an updraft that would take them in a thrilling jump toward the top of the peaks.
On the way, the balloon was supposed to catch a downdraft that would push it away from the mountain to continue its flight over the valley and the Snake River.
At the end of the trip, they would be met by the balloon company's van with the champagne and given a ride back to the resort.
But it did not work as planned.
Everything went fine for a while, Bart said, but nobody reckoned on the vagaries of spring. Instead of the wind blowing along the mountain as it normally does this time of year, it was blowing south. Instead of going up and out, the balloon was simply going in.
"It was OK at first," Bart said. "The view was great and we saw moose. I began shooting some pictures, but as we got farther over the forest and closer to the mountain, I started to worry. I finally told the pilot, and he said he would take us down.
"We couldn't catch a wind that would take us away from the mountain and we kept getting closer to it. We could go up or down but not out."
To avoid crashing into the mountain, they had to keep climbing, Bart said, until they could look directly at the top of the Grand Teton.
"We were at 11,000 feet, and that balloon wasn't supposed to go that high."
They continued to be blown southward along the mountain and were about four or five miles from the town of Victor when the balloon ran out of propane.
By now, they were away from the rocky cliffs and over tree-filled ravines. As the balloon descended, its basket clipped off the tops of trees. They held on for dear life and watched for a chance to jump.
Bart said the basket was within a foot of the snow-covered slope when he took his chance and jumped out on the uphill side. As he leaped, he grabbed an attached rope and tied it to a tree to keep the balloon from being blown away. In the meantime, Rachel and the pilot were spilled out and tumbled down the hillside, but no one was injured.
They had come down in about five feet of snow, Bart said, so they pulled the balloon down and spread the material on the ground to sit on. The pilot called the company van on his mobile phone and told them to alert search and rescue.
Rescue crews evidently thought it would be easy work to find the downed balloon, but they were wrong. The three huddled on the downed balloon for two hours before being spotted by the pilot of a private plane.
They then waited another hour for the U.S. Forest Service to give permission for a rescue helicopter to land in the restricted area.
"It was so close to the mountain, the back of the helicopter was still in the air when we boarded," Bart said.
And they didn't even get their champagne.