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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Sid Cutter, who founded the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta almost 40 years ago that has turned into one of the city's signature events, died Saturday. He was 77.
Officials with the Balloon Fiesta said Cutter died in his sleep after a long battle with stomach cancer.
The Albuquerque-born Cutter is credited with organizing the first Balloon Fiesta in 1972.
The yearly event grew steadily for decades and now is considered one of world's largest hot air balloon festivals.
The nine-day event is held in Albuquerque in early October and is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions. It also serves as a major showcase of New Mexican culture and history.
Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry said Cutter "was an icon for balloon enthusiasts and as the founder of the Balloon Fiesta, he put Albuquerque on the map for many around the world. Our city has lost a dear friend and a ballooning legend."
After serving in the Air Force, Cutter was president of his family's business — Cutter Flying Service — from 1963 to 1974.
But he discovered ballooning in 1971 and devoted the next 25 years of his life to the sport. Cutter founded a ballooning club and started a company that taught piloting.
As a pilot, Cutter was the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon champion in 1978 and 1986. He's been inducted into several city, state and national halls of fame for ballooning.
Cutter is survived by his wife, Jewel, one daughter, a brother and six grandchildren.
In lieu of a funeral, a living reception was held for Cutter in April.