NTSB Identification: LAX96FA344.
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Accident occurred Friday, September 27, 1996 in PHOENIX, AZ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/31/1998
Aircraft: Thunder and Colt COLT 240A, registration: N434TC
Injuries: 2 Serious,12 Minor.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot received a contract from a resort hotel to provide 13 fare-paying passengers with a balloon ride. Hotel management did not perform a background competency check prior to utilizing the pilot's services. The pilot selected the departure site and did not launch pibals to determine the speed and direction of the winds aloft. The flight commenced from a location about 6 nm north-northeast of the FAA controlled Deer Valley Airport, and the airport's wind was from the northeast. After takeoff, the balloon drifted into the airport's Class D airspace and traffic pattern. The pilot had no communication with the control tower. As the balloon drifted through the airspace, the pilot commenced descending at a high rate and impacted hard in an open field about 1 mile west of the airport. The balloon bounced several times and the pilot failed to turn off the pilot lights or rip open the envelope's deflation panel. The 8-knot surface wind blew the balloon into a cement block wall resulting in the pilot's ejection from the basket. With increased buoyancy, the balloon became airborne. None of the passengers were pilots, and the envelope's skirt ignited when they attempted to control the burners. The balloon impacted the ground two more times, and during each impact groups of passengers exited the basket. The balloon eventually drifted over power lines, an interstate highway, past a gasoline service station, and through the final approach course to active runway 07 until finally coming to rest about 2 miles southwest of the airport. Evidence of cocaine was found in the pilot's blood and its metabolite was found in his urine. The pilot had a previous accident, incident, and FAA enforcement history. As with his previous accident, the pilot failed to submit the required accident report.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The pilot's impairment of judgment and performance due to drugs which led to his misjudgment of his descent rate during landing. Contributing factors were: his failure to activate the deflation device (rip line) and turn off the pilot lights, improper use of burner controls, poor judgment, and the relative high wind condition.

Full narrative available

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