This weekend one of the worst hot air balloon accidents in history occurred just 30 miles outside of Austin, Texas claiming the lives of 16 people. Two years ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) advised the Federal Aviation Administration to tighten regulations on operators of hot air balloons. The alternative to the necessary measures, according to the NTSB, would be a high number of fatalities. While it is unknown whether these regulations could have averted the recent tragedy, fears have heightened as a result.
The balloon accident, which claimed the lives of all its riders, took place in Caldwell County, Texas in a field near Lockhart. The initial departure of the balloon ride was delayed about 20 minutes before taking off. The initial call to 911 occurred at 7:43 a.m., just one minute after the balloon reportedly clipped power lines. It has not yet been determined whether the worst hot air balloon accident in U.S. history occurred due to the power lines or if the balloon caught fire before the accident. Sadly, the balloon made a crash-landing almost eight miles from its departure site.
Hot air balloon festivals, rallies, and events are very popular worldwide. The Ashland Ohio Balloonfest has taken place annually for the past 26 years. This memorable event is filled with excitement, colorful hot air balloons, stage performances, food, exhibits, races, sports tournaments and the infamous Balloon Glow and more. The balloons come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Depending on sponsorships and pilot availability, there are always 20 to 30 hot air balloon participants each year, with a record of 39 that took place in 2005.
The weather is one of the biggest challenges facing pilots of the high-flying balloon rides. Pilots do not steer balloons, instead, the “envelope” is guided with bursts of lit propane gas that uses the wind to blow it in the desired direction. Fog, rain, low-lying clouds, and winds surpassing 20 miles per hour could all wreak havoc for hot air balloon flights. Fog or low clouds could hide dangerous power lines until the balloon becomes too close to avoid. Rusty Kaim, a member of the Central Texas Ballooning Association and an Austin-based pilot, said:
Further federal regulations would not make the balloon rides any safer. Federal rules already require commercial pilots to have their balloons inspected every year or every 100 hours, among other requirements.
Saturday’s tragedy, involving one of the worst hot air balloon accidents in history, heightens fears for potential participants. According to Dean Carlton, each year between 400,000 and 500,000 people ride in hot air balloons in the United States. Carlton, the president of the 2,100-member Balloon Federation of America, said the pilot of the recent accident was not a member of the organized group. He said:
The NTSB recommendations would have created a database of commercial users but not necessarily made pilots any safer. There is no regulation that would have probably stopped what happened Saturday, however, training and education might have.
On Saturday, a high-flying ride in Texas ended abruptly killing all 16 riders. The balloon likely hit power lines before a fire broke out causing it to plummet to the ground. This tragedy is the worst hot air balloon accident in U.S. history and, as a result, has heightened fears surrounding this beloved experience.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
NBC News: Texas Hot Air Balloon Likely Hit Power Lines Before Crash: Feds
USA Today: Regulations questioned after deadly hot air balloon crash
Ashland Ohio Balloonfest: Ashland Balloonfest
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Featured Image Courtesy of Mike Willis – Flickr License