On Sept. 27, 1986, the citizens of Cleveland, Ohio, looked up into the sky and watched as the sun and clouds were blotted out by more than a million helium party balloons released during a fundraising stunt put on by the United Way. The balloons were filled by thousands of volunteers who placed them all into a massive enclosing net. At 1:50 p.m., they released the balloons on the news of an approaching rain storm. The organizers expected the balloons to fly high and far away into the sky, but watched instead as the balloons collided with a cold front and sank back down to the ground.

Balloonfest in Cleveland Ohio

Photo: Thom Sheridan/Flickr

Parts of the city were covered with the sea of downed balloons. A nearby airport had to shut down one of their runways for a half hour after it was covered by balloons. Cars crashed into each other and the Coast Guard was hindered in an operation to save two fisherman by the balloons floating on the water. Finding a missing person in the water is hard enough without having to deal a thousand head-shaped objects in the same space. Sadly, the fishermen died.

Balloonfest 86

Photo: Thom Sheridan/Flickr

The United Way was hit by millions of dollars in lawsuits and the city had to deal with cleaning up the 1.4 million balloons.

Watch news coverage of the event from back in ’86:

Balloonfest 86

Photo: Thom Sheridan/Flickr

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Shea Gunther is a podcaster, writer, and entrepreneur living in Portland, Maine. He hosts the popular podcast "Marijuana Today Daily" and was a founder of Renewable Choice Energy, the country's leading provider of wind credits and Green Options. He plays a lot of ultimate frisbee and loves bad jokes.

What could go wrong? Releasing 1.4 million balloons over Cleveland, Ohio
When the United Way of Cleveland released more than a million helium balloons into the sky back in 1986, things did not quite go according to plan.