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Balloons take to the skies in Bristol fiesta

MORE than 100 colourful balloons of all shapes and sizes scattered across the skyline of South West England after a mass launch.

Thousands of visitors will descend on Bristol this weekend as the city plays host to the 39th Bristol International Balloon Fiesta.

Europe’s largest ballooning event features four days of displays by more than 130 balloons from across the world.

Friday’s mass launch — the first flight of the festival — saw 104 hot air balloons set off from the Ashton Court Estate in Bristol at dawn.

Organisers were forced to cancel a mass ascent on Thursday evening due to strong winds but conditions were ‘perfect’ on Friday.

Pilot Chris Hathaway, 42, of Tetbury, Gloucestershire, has been flying in the fiesta for the past 15 years.

‘The conditions were perfect — you couldn’t get much better than that,’ he said.

‘This is a team effort. People always just see the pilot and the balloon but without the crew, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

‘We really enjoy the fiesta. We come back each year because we always have a fantastic time.’

Balloons at the festival this year include a new Thatchers hot air balloon, as well as a special shape Belvoir juice drop.

The Spirit of Jess balloon is in memory of Jess Thomas, who died from cancer at the age of 17 last year.

It has been created by her friend James Burrows, who she met in early 2015, and his father Paul.

James and Jess were both treated on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre.

Mr Burrows, founded of Bristol balloon company Lighter Than Air, and James dedicated the balloon to Jess and the Teenage Cancer Trust.