SURPRISE! Susie B. West Elementary Students Get a Surprise Balloon Visit – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper

SURPRISE! Students at Susie B. West Elementary get a surprise balloon visit

Posted 4:54 p.m. Thursday, October 13, 2022

NATCHEZ — A voice came over the intercom system at Susie B. West Elementary School around 9 a.m. Thursday morning and said, “Students, we have a surprise for you.”

Lead voice was La’Toya Scott-Hammett, Ph.D.

Class by class, students from kindergarten through fourth grade stepped out onto the playground to find the surprise, a turquoise hot air balloon with a pink, purple and green spiral pattern. Pilot Gary Whitby of Columbia, Missouri, who surprised students with the balloon tour, is in Natchez for his fourth year participating in the Natchez Balloon Festival, he said. The festival starts on Friday and lasts until Sunday.

He invited the students to get as close as possible to the basket.

“Are you ready?” he asked them, as his co-pilot Curtis Maroney searched for the burners. “Don’t be afraid now. I’ll count to three. One. Two-“

Before he could get to three, Moroney pulled the lever on the burners and the flames roared into the balloon’s envelope. Some children’s mouths opened in admiration and they looked at the flames. Many others were screaming and running away from the basket as fast as they could. Then, realizing it was safe, they ran to the basket, asking them to do it again.

“Does anyone have a question for me?” Whitby said, to which a student raised his hand and said, “If your head gets too close, wouldn’t that set your hair on fire?”

“Well, I still have hair, don’t I?” said Whitby with a smile.