New Mexico balloonist Ron Clark, member of crew that crossed Pacific, dies at age 69

By Sue Major Holmes, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Mexico balloonist who crossed Pacific dies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Ron Clark, a member of the four-man crew that made the first balloon crossing of the Pacific Ocean in 1981, has died. He was 69.

Clark died Sunday in Albuquerque, where he had lived since 1944. No cause of death was immediately available.

“He lived a life full of excitement and adventure,” his family said in his obituary.

Clark, Ben Abruzzo and Larry Newman of Albuquerque and Japanese restaurateur Rocky Aoki lifted off in the helium-filled Double Eagle V from Japan on Nov. 9, 1981. They spent four harrowing days crossing the Pacific before the balloon, weighed down by ice and buffeted by a storm, crash-landed in northern California, ending the 6,000-mile flight. No one was hurt.

In a homecoming celebration in Albuquerque, Clark recalled the trans-Pacific flight as an emotion-filled one.

“There was a lot of happiness, a lot of sadness,” he said.

Clark was one of the pioneers of New Mexico ballooning, said Kathie Leyendecker, longtime spokeswoman for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta held each October. She met Clark in 1980 through one of his sons, who was her paper boy.

Leyendecker, then the volunteer coordinator for the Association for Retarded Citizens of Albuquerque, said Clark invited four men from a group home to help on his hot air balloon chase crew — the people who retrieve hot air balloons, pilots and passengers when they land during the fiesta. Group home members remained part of his crew for years, she said.

“He made us feel like family from the first day,” Leyendecker said.

According to biographical information released for the Double Eagle V flight, Clark graduated from New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell in 1958. He went to work as a subcontractor the next year, and later became a contractor and real estate developer in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Farmington.

His obituary said he loved to travel, laugh, eat good food, ski and ride roller coasters with his children and grandchildren.

Services are set for Friday in Albuquerque.

Clark is survived by his wife, Shirley; two sons, Ronald M. and Scott B. Clark; a daughter, Christie L. Humphrey; eight grandchildren; and a brother, Ed Clark.

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