Monday, August 27, 2007
A hot air balloon caught fire and crashed in western Canada. Two people were killed and 11 were injured.
The disaster occurred as the airship was preparing to take off from Surrey, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver. An unknown source caused a fire in the basket of the tethered balloon, which then broke free and rose into the air.
Of the 12 passengers and one pilot on board at the time, 11 escaped the balloon with severe burns and other non-life-threatening injuries by jumping out in mid-air. The balloon then collapsed, crashing into a motorhome park with two people still trapped on board, who were killed in the subsequent fire. Four static caravans and two cars were also destroyed in the blaze.
The two deceased are believed to be a mother and daughter. Their family was on scene during the disaster and watched as the balloon burnt up and crashed.
Witness Don Randall, who photographed the accident, said the thing went up about 400 feet (122m) in the air at which point it melted enough of the balloon it collapsed.”The basket was basically a fireball. It just dropped like a stone. I’m just thinking, ‘Oh geez, I hope there’s nobody in that thing. It’s basically a burning death up there.”‘
Bill Yearwood, an investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, told reporters what preliminary information was available: “The crew loaded 12 passengers and was preparing to launch when a fire erupted. The pilot asked the passengers to get out of the basket. The balloon was tethered at the time, but then broke and came loose. The balloon climbed into the air before collapsing in a residential area in the park. They were all trying to get out. I can’t tell you what exactly happened when the balloon was loosened from the tether.”
Injured survivor Diana Rutledge questioned the pilot, Steve Pennock,’s actions after the fire broke out, pointing out that he was first off the balloon. “He was in perfect shape,” she said. “I thought, what is this all about? Wouldn’t he have stayed on to try to stop the fires?”
Joyce Genest, a resident at the park, also questioned procedure that day. “I stopped to watch the balloon get inflated,” she said. “Normally it takes 25 minutes and it’s quite gorgeous to watch. They are never in a big hurry. This time they took about ten minutes.” She said the passengers then got straight into the balloon, an unusual occurrence. “Normally the pilot gets in and tests the gun twice and then everybody gets in.” As soon as everybody was in, he hit the gun and the flame went sideways.”