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Unmanned balloon going down creates stir on shoreline

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Niantic - Reports of a plane going down in flames off the coast of Niantic Friday evening turned out to be a lot of hot air, a hot air balloon that is.

Waterford dispatch received a call at 5:21 p.m. from a Shore Road residence reporting what they thought was a burning aircraft drifting toward the area of Plum Island, then plummeting into Long Island Sound.

Waterford fire departments had boats at the ready and took to the water in search of the downed craft. A Coast Guard vessel also went to the area.

However, when officials checked in at the Shore Road address, residents there were unaware of the incident and had not made the emergency call.

Meanwhile, officials in Niantic, including Fire Marshal Dick Morris, checked with residents on the Shore Road in that town.

Morris said East Lyme Police Sgt. Joe San Juan talked to the residents there, determined that the sighting was legitimate and that there was cause for concern. Chief John McDonald of the Niantic Fire department was contacted. A command post was being organized and search-and-rescue teams from New London to Old Saybrook began preparing to deploy.

As those operations began, Morris said, a Niantic firefighter received a call from two men who said they had launched an unmanned hot air balloon that caught fire as it floated south.

Morris called the men and determined their story was legitimate. He said at that point the most important thing became calling off all the emergency responders who were in the midst of preparing for a search-and-rescue operation.

The incident was resolved at about 6:30 p.m.


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