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Over time, he said Meleski and his wife, Mona, grew to be family and he recalled fondly the couple’s love of elephants and watching the animal herds together in India and Thailand.
“It is really very shocking that we are getting this news,” he said. “It’s tragic to hear and — to be very frank — he’s the very safest pilot and even if it’s a little wind he would think twice to fly.
“I cannot believe this has happened.”
Savio said you could not find a better human being than Meleski, who was very friendly and often played with Savio’s children but, in the skies, he was very “clear in his work” and would adapt himself to any balloon event.
“I used to use him for all my events,” Savio said. “Now, it’s like my right hand is broken. For all my international events he was part of it, for the past 10, 12 years. It is a big loss for me.”
Chris Jones, a balloon pilot based in Texas, said Meleski had a “wonderful skill set” and had flown thousands of hours. He said he knew Meleski for 12 years and flew with him at countless balloon events and he assisted Jones in his training to fly special shape balloons.
“As far as skill level and sharing ideas and thoughts… he was absolutely wonderful,” Jones said. He later added, “I don’t know what happened this morning… some things are just unavoidable, the sport does have its risks… I think he probably did the best he could in the situation he was brought up against.”
Jones said he received a call Saturday morning that a balloon had crashed and the details pointed to Meleski. The realization left him “extremely sad” and in “disbelief.”
“Our tight community, we know the balloon, we saw the shape, we saw the design, that was a very unique design,” Jones said. “We know who that was. In the back of our minds we always hope he’s not in it… but we know better than that.”
He said Meleski was “quite the character” who was always clad in a bandana, shorts and hiking boots — a look that “carried out in his personality.”