Pre-flight briefing underlined after balloon hard landing

Key points:

  • Two passengers were seriously injured when a hot air balloon crashed during a scenic flight in the Yarra Valley;
  • The passengers had received an incomplete pre-flight briefing, likely requiring them to adopt a deep squat position when landing hard, contributing to their injuries;
  • Despite deteriorating wind conditions, the pilot rejected several suitable landing fields to avoid possible logistical and operational difficulties after landing, and eventually made a hard landing in a field to avoid contact with power lines. .

An ATSB investigation into a commercial hot air balloon crash landing in which two passengers were seriously injured highlights the importance of pre-flight briefings being completed and understood by all passengers.

On December 31, 2021, a Kavanagh B-350 balloon with 16 passengers and a pilot on board lifted off from near Glenburn, just north of Victoria’s Yarra Valley, for a scheduled hour-long scenic charter flight.

About 42 minutes later, the balloon pilot learned by radio call that the wind was increasing near the intended landing area at Yarra Glen. Over the next 17 minutes, as the wind increased, the pilot evaluated several landing options before making an approach to land in a field.

During the approach, the pilot maneuvered the balloon over a fence before descending rapidly to avoid contact with nearby power lines, then landing hard. The basket then tipped to the side and dragged 30 to 40 yards. Two passengers were seriously injured in the legs.

The ATSB investigation found that, just prior to landing, three passengers had adopted a deep squat position.

“This was not in accordance with the prescribed pre-flight passenger safety briefing,” said ATSB Transportation Safety Director Stuart Macleod.

“However, not all required actions were taken during the pre-flight briefing, likely due to time pressure and the pilot’s assumption that all passengers would understand an abbreviated briefing.”

“This incomplete briefing likely led these three passengers to adopt an inappropriate deep squat position prior to the hard landing, seriously injuring two of them.”

Mr Macleod said the hard landing is a clear reminder to pilots and balloon operators of the importance of the pre-flight briefing being comprehensive and clearly understood.

“The pre-flight briefing is essential to ensure passenger preparedness, especially as opportunities to reinforce this information during the flight may be limited.”

The investigation revealed that even though the wind conditions were deteriorating, the pilot had rejected several suitable landing fields to avoid logistical and operational difficulties after landing.

“While some landing options may not be ideal due to impact on landowner relations or ease of access to the site after landing, pilots are reminded to prioritize occupant safety against these considerations, in the face of deteriorating wind conditions,” said Macleod. .

As safe landing sites were gradually reduced as the flight continued, the balloon was landed in a field that presented high risks in the prevailing windy conditions.

The field contained fences, had downwind power lines, and was the pilot’s last known landing field along the path of the balloon.

“The landing was complicated by the ball coming down faster than expected, bouncing off the ground into the air, then due to maneuvers to clear fences,” Mr Macleod noted.

“These factors, combined with prevailing winds and nearby power lines, caused the pilot to quickly lower the balloon from an excessive height, resulting in a hard landing.”

“Although undesirable, hard landing was the safest option instead of risking contact with power lines. However, hard landings still increase the risk of injury to the pilot and passengers.

Although not contributing to passenger injuries, the investigation also revealed that the maximum number of passengers the balloon operator allowed to be carried on the balloon meant that there was not enough room in the basket for passengers to adopt the rear-facing landing position specified in the operator procedures.

You can find the report here: AO-2022-003: Hard landing involving Kavanagh B-350 balloons, VH BSW 2 km south of Lilydale Airport, Victoria on December 31, 2021

Last updated August 18, 2022

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