Final Flights: $25,000 awarded to three contest winners

Hot air balloon pilots from Gonzales, Kansas and Oklahoma walked away with the top prizes at the Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Championship events held Friday through Sunday at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Harold “Bubba” Cliver, the director of ballooning at the three-day event, said $25,000 in prize money was awarded in three categories to pilots from around the country.

Organizers estimate 68,000 people attended the festival, which included morning and afternoon balloon competition flights, food, a children’s village and nightly fireworks.

Pilots competed in the 2013 Gonzales Competitor’s event, which consisted of pilots throughout the U.S. competing for the title of overall winner and garnering points for national competitions; 2013 Louisiana State Championship event; and the Louisiana Lagniappe event.

“There were three events held inside the Louisiana State Hot Air Balloon Championship, but the main event if you will was the 2013 Gonzales Competitor’s event,” Cliver said. “This is where the best pilots in the world competed. It is where the big cash prize purse was, $20,000 in total prize money.”

Maury Petrehn won the overall title.

Robert Ambeau, of Gonzales, won the Louisiana State Championship, a title recognized by the Balloon Federation of America.

The Louisiana Lagniappe event, for sport pilots, was won by Wil LaPointe.