Hot Air Balloon Accidents

Riding in a hot air balloon can be an exhilarating and once in a lifetime experience.  But despite its tranquility and sight seeing potential, there are risks and dangers.

Since 1964, the National Transportation Safety Board has investigated 775 hot air balloon incidents in the United States, 70 involving fatalities. Sixteen people died while hot air ballooning from 2002 to 2012.  While experts stress the safety of flying, some of the most deadliest hot air ballooning accidents have occurred in recent years.

The deadliest occurred in February 2013, when a hot air balloon caught fire while floating over Luxor, Egypt, killing 19 of the 21 on board.

In 2012, a hot air balloon hit a power line in New Zealand and burst into flames, killing 11 people. In 2008, a balloon caught fire in Phoenixville, Pa., killing 4 passengers.

All hot air balloons operated in the U.S. must be inspected annually or every 100 hours of flight time if operated commercially, according to Federal Aviation Administration rules. Hot air balloon pilots are required to successfully complete a flight review every two years.

Recently the NTSB expressed concern about “the number of recurring accidents” involving similar safety issues. The board recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration treat hot-air balloons carrying paying passengers the same as helicopters and planes by subjecting tour operators to more regulation.

Balloon pilots must be certified and their balloons regularly checked by authorities. But the NTSB has stated recent studies of accident data showed the current lack of surveillance checks and other oversight contributed to “operational deficiencies” in commercial hot-air balloon flights. Some went up in the air despite risky weather, while others failed to follow the flight manual.

The deadliest accident involving a hot-air balloon in the U.S. killed six people near Aspen Airport in Colorado in 1993, when a sudden change in wind speed and direction shot the balloon into a power line, according to the NTSB. In a flash, the basket cut off from the balloon and crashed. Eleven of the 67 investigated balloon accidents in the U.S. have involved three or more deaths.

After a study released last fall, Johns Hopkins University researchers said that, in addition to the fatal crashes, the number of serious leg injuries suffered by passengers during hard landings was also worrisome. The researchers called on passengers to wear helmets and for gondolas to contain more cushioning and crash-worthy seats.

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury attorney with the primary accident information site on the web, AutoAccident.com.

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