Tributes have been paid to one of the legends of Bristol’s ballooning community, who once set two world records in one flight.
Phil Dunnington, who was among the first balloonists to set up the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta and flew at the first event, passed away yesterday (Tuesday, November 30).
A spokesperson for the balloon fiesta, which is now one of the biggest in the world, said it was a ‘very sad day’.
Phil was one of the early pioneers of balloon flight in the UK, and worked as a sales director for Cameron Balloons for many years.
He was one of the balloonists who founded the fiesta event in 1979, and flew every year since.
In a statement announcing his passing, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta said: “A very sad day at Fiesta HQ as we say goodbye to one of the Fiesta family. Phil Dunnington was a founding balloonist at the first event and always gave up his time on the Fiesta board.
“Many of you will have seen him floating past your windows over the last 40 years. He passed away this morning. Our thoughts are with Allie, Nick and Phil’s family and friends at this time. He was be sadly missed,” they added.
Phil’s wife Allie was also an accomplished balloonist, and became famous in Bristol for regularly taking to the skies in a ‘hopper’ – a smaller hot air balloon which has just one seat below the balloon, rather than a basket.
Allie and Phil met while she was working as a tour guide in Burma, and when she met him she’d never flown in a balloon before – soon she was training to be a qualified pilot. His wedding gift to her when they were married in 2004 was the hopper balloon.
In 1999, Phil was the co-pilot with David Hempleman-Adams on a stunning adventure in the Arctic.
Phil and the Wiltshire-based explorer set off on a mission to become the first to fly a hot air balloon over the magnetic North Pole, but bad weather prevented this.
Their five and a half hour flight did break two records, however. The pair set the record for the longest flight over the high Arctic, and they became the first to fly over the North West Passage in an open basket hot air balloon.
Their trip to northern Canada was also remarkable after they had an air rage incident on their flight there – in an aeroplane. The team were on board a flight to Resolute Bay, when a man suffering from mental health issues tried to get out of the plane at 21,000ft.