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They say lightning never strikes twice in the same place. Don’t tell that to balloon pilot Michael Glen of Phoenix.
The pilot of Joelly, the popular “baby bee” balloon, awoke early Thursday to leave for Balloon Fiesta Park only to find that his truck and trailer, with “baby bee” and a standard balloon inside, had been stolen from the parking lot of the TownPlace Suites hotel near the airport.
Albuquerque social media was abuzz with the news and, to Glen, it was deja vu all over again.
In 2006, Glen came to Albuquerque to fly in his first Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. It was over before it started. He emerged from his Embassy Suites hotel on the Friday before the start of fiesta to participate in the Albuquerque Aloft program. He discovered that his trailer had been detached from his truck and was missing.
“I never did get it back,” he said.
He got a bit luckier on Thursday. Within hours, Albuquerque police reunited the pilot and his property.
“We recovered everything, although there was some damage to the truck from where they popped the lock, and they busted up the steering column so they could start the truck,” he said.
The baby bee is one-third of a trio of balloons that also includes a mother bee and a father bee. They often launch together as the Bee Family. And there is a real-life family connection. The father balloon, Joey, is piloted by Glen’s brother, Chris Glen, of Spokane, Washington. The mother bee, Lilly, is flown by Bob Romaneschi of Phoenix. On Thursday, Joey and Lilly launched without baby bee during the morning’s Special Shape Rodeo.
Glen’s saga began some time before 5 a.m., when he found his truck and trailer missing from the hotel parking lot. The Albuquerque Police Department swarmed into action. They learned that an iPad was inside the truck and, after using an Apple device tracking program, they headed to a southwest area neighborhood. There, they found the tablet discarded along the side of a road. During a search of the area, they hit the honey pot with the discovery of the still-loaded trailer parked on a nearby residential street. Shortly after, they made a beeline to northwest Albuquerque, where they found the parked truck, Glen said.
“The bee is safe,” Police Chief Harold Medina declared during a news conference. He attributed the quick recovery to “old-fashioned detective work.”
Balloon Fiesta operations director Sam Parks said the fiesta maintains a lot for balloonists to park their trailers and trucks overnight. It requires a special pass to access and it’s monitored by 24-hour security.
Glen said he normally does keep his trailer in that lot, but, in this case, he took it with him because he needed to retrieve the bee balloon from its storage at a friend’s property.
Glen is no stranger to New Mexico. He was raised in Roswell, where he went to high school, and later attended Eastern New Mexico University and then New Mexico State University. It was in Roswell in 1996 that he was injured in a vehicle accident that left him paralyzed and unable to walk.
Because his father was a balloon pilot, Glen grew up around the sport and decided that he, too, would become a pilot. In 2005, he purchased a balloon in which to train. He subsequently became the first paraplegic person to be granted a hot air balloon license by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Despite the thefts of his balloons, Glen said the experience has not stung him so much that his image of Albuquerque is tarnished.
“It could never sour me on ballooning and definitely not on the Balloon Fiesta, which will always be like my Christmas,” he said. “It’s a place I always love coming to.”