Balloon released in woman’s memory found 500 miles away in Netherlands

The balloon was discovered by tulip farmer Pieter Burger in a field in Valkkoog in the Netherlands

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Izzy Hawksworth and Alexandria Slater
Monday 02 October 2023 14:37 BST
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<p>Marisska Burger (left), Kate O’Malley (in blue dress), Pieter Burger and Levi O’Malley (right) with the balloon and a Dutch newspaper article about the story.</p>

Marisska Burger (left), Kate O’Malley (in blue dress), Pieter Burger and Levi O’Malley (right) with the balloon and a Dutch newspaper article about the story.

A man has said he is ‘connected for life’ to a Dutch couple who discovered a balloon that he released in memory of his sister - 500 miles from where it was let go.

Levi O’Malley, 33, released a memorial balloon in memory of his sister Scarlett, 27, who died in April 2021.

Attached to the balloon was a note, which asked whoever found it to message a Facebook page called ‘Here I Am’ - a self-help page Scarlett had created.

Surprisingly, the balloon travelled 500 miles and it was discovered a week after it was released by tulip farmer Pieter Burger in a field in Valkkoog in the Netherlands.

Mr Burger then messaged the Facebook page. He and his wife Marisska were put in contact with Levi and Scarlett’s mum Kate, 56.

The two families have been in contact ever since but Levi said he “didn’t think” this would happen when the balloon was released.

He said: “I didn’t think anyone would ever find it, I didn’t really think anything of it.

“A lot of her friends wrote messages on the balloons.

“It’s just a crazy story that this one balloon managed to find its way to Holland.

“It could have landed in the sea or made it to ten miles down the road and then popped when it hit the sky.”

The balloon landed in a scarlet-coloured tulip field and the couple were so touched by Scarlett’s story that they decided to name a new species of the flower after her.

Scarlett O’Malley

The couple have now brought more than 800 tulip bulbs to be planted in different places in the UK, such as Scarlett’s former schools and at her family members’ homes.

Kate and Levi are also planning to visit Pieter and Marisska in April next year, where they will be able to see the tulips planted in the field where the balloon was found.

Levi, of Blackburn, Lancashire, said: “We’ve been in contact with their family for the past two years.

“They’ve sent over hundreds of tulip bulbs for us to plant in Scarlett’s schools and around the homes of family members, as well as in Australia where Scarlett and I used to live.

“We plant them in November and they bloom in April which is when Scarlett’s birthday is.

“I’ve also placed an emblem of a tulip on Scarlett’s headstone.”

Pieter said that when he first looked at the Facebook page in April 2021, that he ‘couldn’t let go’ what had happened to Scarlett.

He added that when Kate first messaged him about the balloon, that he had “tears in his eyes”.

Pieter said: “When I looked at the page I started to understand that the young woman had passed away and from that moment I couldn’t let it go.

“I was overloaded with warm messages from friends, uncles, aunts and Scarlett’s parents.

The balloon that was found in the Netherlands

“They thought naming the tulip was such a beautiful gesture.

“With tears in my eyes, I was reading through the messages of Scarlett’s mum, who sent me a little message pretty much every day.

“The tulip had a special place in the funeral service and has provided a connection between us.”

Pieter gave the balloon back to Levi and Kate when he visited them, which Levi said left “everyone in tears”.

The bricklayer also said he feels he will be connected to Marisska and Pieter ‘for life.’

Levi said: “Pieter actually returned the balloon on the last night of their stay which was quite a shock.

“When he brought the balloon in, he had everyone in tears.

“The balloon could have landed in the sea, or in cow muck and been trodded on and forgotten about.

“But it landed in a tulip field, in the most beautiful place, found by the most beautiful, amazing family who had gone out of their way to get in touch.

“It’s made everything easier. We’re connected for life now.”

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