Balloon injures two spectators at Thanksgiving Parade

A giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade snagged a street light and caused part of it to fall, injuring a woman and her 11 year old sister, witnesses said. The accident Thursday marred the holiday celebration, but proved to be far less serious than a similar one eight years ago that critically injured a woman and prompted changes in parade rules.

Two sisters, ages 26 and 11, were hit by the debris, officials said. The girl needed nine stitches to her head and her sister, who was in a wheelchair, suffered bruises to the head, said Lt. John Grimpel, a police department spokesman. Both were discharged by late afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said.

"We should be thankful none were more seriously hurt," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A Macy's statement said identified the sisters as Sarah and Mary Chamberlain and said the family was "at home together celebrating Thanksgiving tonight."

Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan said the Macy's Santa Claus had visited with the younger girl and that the company helped arrange for the family to return to Albany. The girls' father, Stephen Chamberlain, told The New York Times for a story posted on its Web site that "we plan to go back to the parade next year."

The accident happened in Times Square near the end of the nationally televised parade when the tethers on the "M&M's Chocolate Candies" balloon became entangled on the head of the street lamp and knocked it off.

"It happened so fast," said parade spectator Karim Simmons, of Queens. "I said, 'Oh, my God!' It dropped like a rock."

The crew handling the balloon was apparently trying to correct its course after a gust when it became entangled with the light, Bloomberg said. The National Weather Service said the wind speed in Central Park at 11 a.m. was 10 mph (16 kph), with gusts topping out at 21 mph (34 kph).

The circumstances were an echo of the 1997 accident, when 45 mph (72 kph) winds forced a "Cat in the Hat" balloon into a metal pole on Central Park West. As a result of that accident, balloon handlers were given more training, and guidelines were set to ground balloons if the wind threatened to be too strong. Streetlights were redesigned, including the one that was broken Thursday.

Parade organizers were given the go-ahead to use the balloons this year, but ordered them tethered on shorter lines because of moderate breezes at the parade's start. The Macy's parade started in 1924 and has been an annual tradition, canceled only in the World War II years of 1942 to 1944, reports the AP. I.L.

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