It was a cold blustery day back in February 1996. I was working for a News Bureau back in Saint John NB. As I recall I got up and cursed the weather and headed into work for what promised to be another day of cold weather stories and wishing I was someplace warm and sunny.
The news room was abuzz when I arrived. Assignments were being divided up and I was dealt an "out of towner" , one that would have me meet up with our Fredericton Bureau reporter Laverne Stuart at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown for an item on the field exercises as the men prepared for a deployment to war torn Bosnia.
Christ, it was going to be cold out there, remembering the last time on the base with Laverne years back. At that time the temps were near minus 40 with the wind chill. Our cameras barely functioned and our bodies were chilled beyond belief.
As I drove up good old NB highway #7 I received a page to call the office. It seems the assignment desk back in Halifax wanted me to "keep on the lookout, for a hot air balloon that was in trouble."
They further explained to me that the balloon in question belonged to Millionaire Adventurer Steve Fossit. He was attempting a solo circumnavigation to become the first human to do so in a hot air balloon.
I thought "what the hell are the chances of seeing this craft fly by, moreover, what are the odds of this record attempting flight, traversing the airspace of Southern New Brunswick?"
"Fat fucking chance" I resolved and continued with my original assignment.
Once in the training area of CFB Gagetown, I was in communicado, that is pagers and cell phones were useless. I didn't give the "balloon thing" another thought.
When Laverne returned to our Fredericton office to edit our story, that is when we found out that the high flying Mr. Fossit had crash landed his balloon on the edge of a farmer's snow covered field just outside of Hampton, New Brunswick.
It was quite a scene.
I thought "shit, the biggest story of the year, the world media all interested and calling our operation requesting feeds and interviews, nobody died and I am up here in Fredericton missing it all." Damn I was disappointed, nothing like this ever happens in sleepy hollow NB. Not only that, as it turns out Mr. Fossit's crash landing, now leading all of the casts, ABC, CNN, CBS, NBC ect,,, happened just 7 kilometers from my freakin' house!
Our visual story of soldiers in the field, during live fire maneuvers ended up buried in our show in section 3 or something. My dejected drive home was indeed a long one. When I arrived back at the Saint John office, I found it buzzing with activity.
Mike, one of my camera colleagues looks at me and says "Mur you missed a big one."
He was just beginning to strike his final hit with Mr. Fossit after a successful feed to Ted Kopple's Night Line.
The next day I got to do a follow up piece as Steve and his documentary crew revisited the crash site. It again was cold and blustery on that day. As we interviewed Mr. Fossit, he shivered from the bitter cold.
"I'm sorry, but I have forgotten my hat and my ears are freezing off" he says as we were about to begin.
"Here sir, I have a spare toque in the van" I say to him.
"Thank you, that's very kind" he answers.
I never got the hat back, for all I know he may have worn it on one of his other adventures, it doesn't matter.
But that was the day I met and interviewed Steve Fossit, Millionaire Adventurer, and Aviator.
After that day, and as the years went by, I had always followed Mr. Fossit's exploits. I was saddened to learn that he had gone missing a year ago while flying. And to learn that earlier this week the wreckage and now his remains have been found.
Rest in Peace Mr. Fossit.