The balloon that flew from Malaga to Rabat

Sandro and his daughter Ayla and a copy of the note.
Sandro and his daughter Ayla and a copy of the note. / SUR
  • Little Ayla and her father released the balloon from Rincón de la Victoria and five months later received an email confirming its arrival in Rabat, Morocco

It was the grandmother of young Ayla, nearly two years old, who gave her granddaughter a balloon filled with helium last King's Day, one of many that are typically sold at fairs. The balloon had a drawing of Chase on it, the leading police dog in the popular Paw Patrol, one of the little girl's favourite cartoons.

A few days later, when the balloon was starting to deflate, her father, Sandro Pizarro, decided to carry out an experiment: "I was wondering how far the balloon would travel if we let it go, like when you throw a message in a bottle in the sea," he told SUR. He got to work and improvised a note: "We are experimenting as to how far the balloon will travel, if you find it please email us. Thank you," he wrote. "We covered the note in plastic and taped it onto the balloon. Then we let the balloon go from our balcony," explained the journalist and camera operator from Rincón de la Victoria.

Five months later, when the family had completely forgotten the whole episode, Sandro received an unexpected message via email with an attachment containing a photo of the balloon, complete with a note. The sender was a stranger who said that Chase has arrived in Morocco. The balloon had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and had flown all the way to Sidi Allal Bahraoui, a city close to Rabat, a journey of over 400 kilometres. "It was a great surprise because a lot of time had passed since we'd released the balloon. We didn't think that anyone was going to reply," Sandro admitted.

The balloon had arrived in Morocco twelve days after it was released in Malaga, Sandro worked out after exchanging a few emails with the recipient. As far as he knows, the person who originally found the balloon doesn't speak Spanish nor has an email address, and asked for help from the person who eventually sent the email. "It seems that the person who found the globe looked for a friend who could write in Spanish and who had an email address to reply to us," Sandro said. "I explained it to my daughter. She remembered the balloon but she is so small that I don't know if she has understood what happened. In any case it's a curious incident that I'll remind her about when she's a bit older," he said, smiling.

Not the first time

Although it seems like an impossible journey for a balloon, the truth is that this isn't the first time that this has happened. There are registered cases in other parts of the world of balloons that have crossed oceans and even entire continents.

According to previous observations, these balloons tend to travel on their side and climb several kilometres into the sky before bursting due to atmospheric pressure. A few years ago, a German scientist developed software to simulate where a balloon would end up if released for children. According to his study, a helium balloon in optimal conditions can cover a distance of up to 3,000 kilometres.