Two East German families escaped to the West on Sunday (16 September) in a home made hot air balloon built out of curtains and bed sheets.
Two East German families escaped to the West on Sunday (16 September) in a home made hot air balloon built out of curtains and bed sheets. The balloon, carrying four adults and four children bumped down near the Bavarian town of Naila in the early hours of Sunday morning after a 25-mile (40 kilometre) flight from Poessneck on the East German side of the border. It was their second attempt at a balloon escape.
SYNOPSIS: The flight took just thirty minutes. The makeshift balloon was piloted by 37 year old aircraft mechanic Peter Strelzik. with him were his wife and two children aged fifteen and eleven, a 24 year old builder, Guenter Wetzel, his wife, and their children aged just five and two. The balloon had taken two months to built, the pieces being bought from different locations to avoid attracting attention.
It lifted off from a remote field outside of Poessneck six miles (9 kilometres) from the border and rose to a height of 15-hundred feet (457 metres) The two families had to stand on a wooden platform less than five feet (1.5 metres) square. Above them was the balloon canopy, 137 feet(41 metres) high and 114 feet (34 metres) across., stitched together by the two wives using nylon sheets and curtains. The platform had a single safety precaution--a clothes rope wound around four corner posts. The children were at the corners, one on each post. The adults clung to a flimsy cage in the middle where four butane gas cylinders powered the hot air burners.
Peter Strelzik said he was frightened when the balloon was caught in a searchlight over the border. He said he just waited for the bullets, but the shots never came. When the balloon touched down at Naila the men hid their families until they were sure they were in West Germany. During an earlier attempt in July they'd narrowly missed capture when their first balloon crashed on the eastern side of the border.
The families have been promised work and housing in Naila.