Carolina BalloonfestDozens of hot air balloonists will salute one of their brethren this weekend at the Carolina BalloonFest.

This year’s 39th annual festival is dedicated to the memory of Edward Ristaino, an area balloonist who died in a crash in March.

This festival is held each year in Iredell County (Statesville, N.C.).

Organizers say this year’s program will feature 50 hot-air balloonists from around the world.

Ristaino was a member of the close group of balloonists that has traveled the country for years for events such as this one and to engage in their passion for hot-air ballooning.

Ristaino was killed in a crash at the World Chicken Festival near Atlanta.

He was making flights taking skydivers up when a sudden storm blew up as he was taking five skydivers up. When the storm hit, Ristano’s balloon had not reached an altitude that would allow the jumpers to make a safe jump, so he took the balloon higher to enable them to get out and safely land.

When the skydivers landed, they looked aloft and could no longer see the balloon. The storm eventually collapsed the craft which crashed.

Ristaino is remember as an active participant and leader in the hot air balloon world.

He was a regular at the Iredell festival and some of the top competitive balloonists in the world will be on hand this weekend for the memorial event.

The festival will feature mass launches, balloon rides and other events.

Launches will be held between 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 8 and 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

The Carolina BalloonFest originated in 1974 as the First Annual National Balloon Rally, can be traced back to balloonist Tracy Barnes, a Statesville native and founder of The Balloon Works. The event in its early days was a more informal weeklong gathering of balloon enthusiasts.

The Balloon Works is credited with helping create today’s active ballooning culture by being the first manufacturer of affordable sport balloons. The initial National Balloon Rally came about when Statesville Balloon Works distributor Bill Meadows invited customers to come down for a week of camping, flying and swapping ballooning stories.

It is the nation’s second oldest balloon rally and at one time hosted as many as 160 balloonists and 80,000 spectators.