Romantic and Picture-Perfect Hot Air Balloon Marriage Proposal Morphs Into Harrowing Ocean Rescue

Sunday’s golden sunset viewed from a hot air balloon high above Southern California served as the picturesque backdrop for Eric Barretto’s romantic marriage proposal to his girlfriend, Ashley King.

But just after Barretto got down on one knee to pop the question and King happily accepted a beautiful diamond ring, the winds changed direction, forcing the hot air balloon dangerously westward toward the Pacific Ocean.

Adding to an increasingly terrifying situation was the fact that the hot air balloon was spinning and the pilot was having a hard time keeping it aloft. At 6:30 p.m., residents of the beach community of Cardiff, about 24 miles north of San Diego, reported that a hot air balloon was drifting dangerously low over their coastal homes.

Amateur videos show the hot air balloon losing altitude about 300 yards off the coast, dipping its basket into the surf, and then popping up again.

"We were just over water the whole time and we just couldn't get back toward the land area," Barretto told local ABC-TV affiliate 10News.

Recognizing the real possibility of an emergency water landing, six lifeguards and dozens of paddle boarders headed toward the balloon to lend assistance.

"I was scared,” King told 10News. “I was just yelling for help.”

With the hot air balloon hovering just above the surf, one video captured the moment Barretto launched himself out of the water-logged basket and into the ocean.

Eventually, Barretto, his fiancée and the balloon's pilot were all able to swim to a rescue boat and be taken to safety. No one was injured.

The paddle-boarders worked together to grab the balloon’s messenger line and tow it to shore.

When asked by 10News if she’d ever go on another hot air balloon ride, King said, "No, I don't plan on it."

Despite the near tragedy, the young couple came away from their experience with new-found celebrity status and a tall tale their grandkids one day might find very hard to swallow.

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