EB News update 15.05.12
It has been a bit of a bad few days as far as ballooning has been concerned with two reports coming out on the ballooning accidents in January and the news of a fatal powerline strike in France.
Inquest New Years’ Day Balloon Accident Returned
The inquest into the tragic deaths of Lee Pibworth and Alan Burnett on 1st January 2011 at Midsomer Norton was held at Flax Burton coroner’s court on Thursday 10th May 2012. They were attempting a high altitude flight to 6,000m being part of Lee’s British Balloon & Airships Club’s Gold Medal attempt.
Contact with the balloon was lost by Bristol Air Traffic Control after the crew reported ‘now descending’ at FL205 ( 20,500ft) and Bristol ATC responded, correcting their Flight Level as FL215 (21,500ft). No response to the ATC transmission was recorded. The last message received by the ground crew was from Alan Burnett when he transmitted that they were at 6,600m (21,780ft altitude) and starting their descent. The balloon came down on a bowling green at Midsomers Norton killing both occupants. The AAIB report (link below) drew attention to the use of oxygen during the attempt, the clothing worn, the loading of the balloon and the type of deflation system fitted to the balloon.
The coroner, Maria Voison, agreeing with the very thorough Air Accident Investigation Branchs’ (AAIB) report, said that it was likely that the accident was caused by a lack of experience of operating the type of balloon used and the effects of altitude and recorded a narrative verdict. This is a factual statement of the circumstances surrounding someone's death, without attributing the cause to any individual.
Interim Report Published on New Zealand Accident
The initial findings by New Zealand’s Transport Accident Investigation Commission surrounding the balloon accident at Carterton in New Zealand have revealed that "toxicology tests from the pilot had returned a positive result for cannabis".
Pilot, Lance Hopping (53), and ten passengers where killed in January 2011 when the Ride balloon hit powerlines and caught fire.
Despite the findings the lead investigator, Ian McClelland, said his inquiry “had not yet made any findings linking cannabis use to the accident, although the test results are concerning to the Commission". This follows another fatal crash involving an overloaded jump aircraft in 2010 that crashed into a glacier killing nine people where two of the commercial Skydivers on board were found to have had cannabis in their systems.
The initial findings could be far reaching as New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key said that the Government would look closely whether compulsory drug testing should be introduced to the adventure tourism industry.
French Balloon Accident
Reported by the French News service on Sunday May 13th a balloon struck powerlines at Villiers St Denis in Aisne, France. Two of the four people on board died in the accident and the other two were injured. The balloon had taken off from Chateau Thierry at around 0700 hours.