Do You Know Who’s Piloting That Balloon?

Hot Air Balloon Accidents

Hot air ballooning can mean an experience of thrilling beauty, especially at sunset. Here in South Carolina, the popular festival Balloons Over Anderson happens on October 7, 8, and 9 in 2016. Thousands of folks enjoy ballooning in the U.S. every year.

But sometimes the situation goes awry. While it’s not always anyone’s fault, if you enjoy ballooning, you might want to think twice about the pilot’s training.

Hot Air Balloon Accident Stats and Facts

According to National Transportation Safety Board records, in 71 balloon crashes since 1964, 124 people have died in the U.S. The NTSB investigated 800 balloon accidents during the time period. Such accidents occur most often for the following reasons:

  • Excessive speed upon landing/hard landing or ground strike
  • Contact with power lines
  • Collapse of the balloon after a mid-air collision
  • Bad weather
  • Pilot error.

Pilot error is, in fact, the most likely cause of a hot air balloon crash. In a study that analyzed NTSB hot air balloon crash data from 2000 to 2011, pilot error was at least a partial factor in 63 crashes, 5 of them fatal. As a proportion, pilot error was partially or fully involved in 81 percent of crashes. That’s a staggeringly large percentage.

Tragedy in Texas

On July 30, 2016, 15 passengers and the pilot died as the result of a terrible hot air balloon accident in Lockhart, Texas. While the final cause of the accident is not yet known because full NTSB investigations can take months, one thing to consider is the level of disclosure required of anyone who wishes to become a commercial hot air balloon pilot.

Federal regulations do not require a prospective pilot to reveal a past that can include substance abuse. If you want to fly solo in a helicopter or airplane, you are required by the FAA to obtain medical certification that will disclose any conditions which could end your chances of becoming a pilot. But to fly a balloon or glider, you need only write a statement that you don’t have any medical defects that would keep you from being a pilot. (South Carolina regulations are in line with federal ones.)

In this case, the balloon’s pilot had been arrested several times in Missouri for driving while intoxicated with alcohol, had lost his automotive driver’s license at least twice for drunk driving, and had spent time in prison twice, once for drugs and once for driving drunk while on parole. Prospective balloon pilots are not required to divulge DUI driving records to the FAA.

The company that ran the balloon rides, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, has since suspended operations. When it was still operational, it was not accredited by the Better Business Bureau, possessed a D+ rating, and had six complaints lodged against it over three years.

What Can I Do?

You might consider not going up in a balloon if the weather is dicey or looks threatening, or if you just have a “gut feeling.” Keep in mind that pilot error can mean making the wrong decision about the weather.

Before the next time you go aloft, consider checking first with the Better Business Bureau, and asking to see the pilot’s license and the balloon’s inspection records. Additionally, because some of the fatalities in the 2000-2011 study mentioned above arose from blunt force trauma to the head and neck, ask whether helmets are supplied for your ride. Be sure to wear the helmet if you are supplied with one.

Getting Help After a Hot Air Balloon Accident

Have you been in a hot air balloon accident, or any accident in which you suspect negligence on the part of the other party is involved? The personal injury lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm have represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll get the personalized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in an accident in which the other party was at fault, South Carolina law entitles you to hold that party legally responsible for your medical expenses as well as any lost wages and other financial losses. You may also seek compensation for pain and suffering or loss of comfort, care and companionship of a loved one. The deadline for filing a claim is already running, so contact the Louthian Law Firm for help by calling us at 1-803-454-1200. If you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.