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In pics: International Balloon Fiesta returns to Bristol

Europe’s largest ballooning event features four days of displays.

More than 100 colourful balloons of all shapes and sizes scattered across the skyline of South West England after a mass launch.

Thousands of visitors will descend on Bristol this weekend as the city plays host to the 39th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

Europe’s largest ballooning event features four days of displays by more than 130 balloons from across the world.

Friday’s mass launch – the first flight of the festival – saw 104 hot air balloons set off from the Ashton Court Estate in Bristol at dawn.

Organisers were forced to cancel a mass ascent on Thursday evening due to strong winds but conditions were “perfect” on Friday.

Pilot Chris Hathaway, 42, of Tetbury, Gloucestershire, has been flying in the fiesta for the past 15 years.

“The conditions were perfect – you couldn’t get much better than that,” he said.

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(Steve Parsons/PA)
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(Steve Parsons/PA)

“This is a team effort. People always just see the pilot and the balloon but without the crew, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

“We really enjoy the fiesta. We come back each year because we always have a fantastic time.”

Mr Hathaway’s balloon landed in a field in Cadbury Heath, Bristol, where young children ran to greet him and help deflate it.

Some had been driven across Bristol by their parents, tracking the David Hathaway Logistics balloon as it soared above the city.

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(Steve Parsons/PA).
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(Steve Parsons/PA)
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(Steve Parsons/PA)

The experienced pilot said taking off with more than 100 other balloons was different from usual ascents.

“You have to be careful about all the other balloons around you – you can’t take off into another balloon,” he added.

“It is quite intense but you do get used to it after a while. You’re also taking off in a very small space.

“You’re surrounded by other people doing their own thing and have to be very aware of what is going on.”

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