The 16th Day of September

Eight people escaped East Germany in a homemade hot air balloon 1979

The East German balloon escape took place at approximately 2:00 a.m. on September 16, 1979. Two families, with eight members in total, escaped the communist country of East Germany by crossing the border to West Germany in a homemade hot air balloon.

Peter Strelzyk, an electrician and former East German Air Force mechanic, and Günter Wetzel, a bricklayer by trade, began research into balloons. Their plan was to escape with their wives and total of four children.

Eight people escaped East Germany in a homemade hot air balloon 1979

They calculated the weight of the passengers and the craft itself to be around 750 kilograms (1,650 lb). Subsequent calculations determined a balloon capable of lifting this weight would need to hold 2,000 cubic meters (71,000 cu ft) heated to 100 °C (212 °F). The next calculation was the amount of material needed for the balloon, estimated at 800 square meters (8,600 sq ft).

The plot to accomplish this was carried out over a period of one and a half years, including three unsuccessful attempts. They tried different balloons, and various modifications until the successful escape occurred.

The families decided to initially settle in Naila where they landed. Wetzel worked as an automobile mechanic and Strelzyk opened a TV repair shop in Bad Kissingen. Due to pressure on them from Stasi spies, the Strelzyks moved to Switzerland in 1985.

Extra Note: They considered building a helicopter but quickly realized they would not be able to acquire an engine capable of powering such a craft.

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