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The Ronald McDonald Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Disaster of 2019 Explained

The Ronald McDonald Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Disaster of 2019 Explained

McDonald’s is still making waves four years after their beloved Ronald McDonald float fell from grace during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

As viewers clearly recall, 2019 was rough on the legendary balloons that made their way down the 2.5-mile parade path in New York City. Massive 37 mph wind gusts plagued the area that Thanksgiving, which tossed the floating giants all over the street. The weather was so bad that officials nearly banned balloons altogether. But they eventually decided to let them fly as long as their handlers held them close to the ground.

Ronald was in particularly bad shape that year. Sometime during the prior night, as he was being filled with helium, he suffered a 3-inch tear in his leg. But the company decided the tear was nothing compared to the size of his body, which was 68 feet tall and 32 feet wide. So, they pushed him out with the rest of the balloons.

The dozens of volunteer handlers tasked with leading Ronald McDonald through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade had no idea the float was damaged until they were ready to depart. 

“Right out of the gate, the left leg had a rip in it,” handler Franki Primeggia told The New York Post shortly after the debacle. “We got underneath the balloon, we all took a rope, they unnetted the balloon … and they saw it.”

Two Macy’s employees tried to patch the hole last minute, but they weren’t able to find the necessary supplies. 

“They didn’t tape it or anything,” Primeggia added. “[They] didn’t make a big deal out of being unable to tape it.”

Massive Wind Gusts Haphazzardly Tossed Ronald McDonald Through the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Despite the smallness of the rip, manning the 470-pound body became increasingly difficult as it’s 12,200 cubic feet of helium began to lessen, and wind gusts pushed Ronald and the volunteers about. Another handler, Richard Buran, said one particularly strong gust shoved Ronald toward a tree branch. And when the group dragged him back, his leg was visibly deflating. 

“Everybody saw it,” Buran said. “It was obvious that it happened.”

The wind and the rip grew more serious mid-parade. At that point, the situation turned mildly dangerous. 

“There were a couple of big gusts of wind … Some people were freaking out and scattered,” Primeggia remembered.

The handlers tried pulling the float closer to the ground to better maintain him, but Primeggia believed that made the tear bigger. Eventually, the leg became entirely deflated. When that happened, the heavy fabric dragged along the street, making the balloon imbalanced. 

Like a champion runner defeated by injury, Ronald McDonald slowly and hopefully made his way toward the finish line, and the handlers did their best to help him complete his Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade run. But in the end, he couldn’t. About ten blocks from the end, officials pulled him from the lineup. 

“Everyone was a little bummed out … you want to make it down to Macy’s,” Buran admitted.

Following the incident, McDonald’s issued a mournful statement. 

“The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade remains an iconic tradition that McDonald’s is proud to be a part of for more than 20 years,” it read. “Some of the balloons suffered stress and tears during the overnight inflation, which resulted in the Ronald McDonald giant balloon being pulled midway through the Parade.”

Fortunately, Ronald was repairable. Workers refurbished his leg, and he made it back into the legendary lineup the following year.