A prominent member of the family that owns Ski Santa Fe and Sandia Peak remains missing and presumed dead after a hot-air balloon accident in Italy.
World-class balloonist Richard Abruzzo, of Albuquerque, and his co-pilot Carol Rymer Davis, of Denver, were last heard from on Sept. 29 when they reported no problems on board. The pair of veteran balloon pilots were competing in the 54th Gordon Bennett Gas Balloon Race over the Adriatic Sea when they disappeared.
"We're headed for Albania - we're scooting along," they said, according to the message reported on the BBC.
Race officials said that Abruzzo and Davis likely plunged into the sea off Vieste, in Puglia, during stormy weather and at a potentially fatal speed of 50 mph. Italian officials called off the search Oct. 4.
Meanwhile, Abruzzo's wife, Nancy, wasn't ready to call off the search quite yet. She issued a statement upon her return to Albuquerque Oct. 6: "I take great comfort in the fact that the Italian Coast Guard is moving forward with continued vigilance in the area where Richard's balloon went missing. I continue to hope for the information that will help us all answer the questions surrounding the disappearance of my husband and his co-pilot, Carol (Rymer Davis)."
On Saturday, Oct. 16, the family and friends of Davis, 65, paid their final respects at a memorial service in Denver. Davis, who was a radiologist, piloted with Abruzzo for many years. The pair had won the prestigious Gordon Bennett race in 2004, ending a five-year hiatus in wins for American long-distance gas balloonists.
The Abruzzo family got into the ski area business in 1958, when real estate investor Ben Sr. bought the small La Madera Ski Area in the Sandia Mountains by reportedly mortgaging his wife's engagement ring. The ski area later became known as Sandia Peak. In 1966, the family and other investors opened the Sandia Peak Tramway, until recently the world's longest. Ski Santa Fe joined the family's portfolio in 1984, and the three Abruzzo sons - Benny, Louis, and Richard - worked at each in various capacities.
"Richard works on all the issues associated with water and utilities, which is a big task, but he is also involved in the decision-making process on all major projects, as we all are," Benny Abruzzo told The Santa Fe New Mexican in 2008.
Flying was the family's passion and, in some cases, downfall. Richard's father, Ben Sr., died in an airplane accident in 1985, along with his wife, Pat. and four friends who were all going skiing in Colorado. Richard Abruzzo became the first balloonist to pilot a helium craft across the country in 2003. Two years later, a balloon piloted by Abruzzo and Davis struck a power line in southwestern Kansas. Abruzzo fell out at least 50 feet above the ground, according to news reports, while Davis stayed in the basket for another 10 miles before she was able to land safely.
Abruzzo suffered broken ribs, wrist and pelvis in his fall. A year later he told the Albuquerque Journal, "Some of my fingers are still numb, but it's a great reminder of something you don't ever want to forget. It reminds you never to take anything for granted. It's a very humbling experience."