BFO94LA078
BFO94LA078

On April 26, 1994, at 0808 hours eastern daylight time, N898ET, a Cameron ET-90 balloon, operated by the Brown Foreman Beverage Company, Louisville, Kentucky, impacted powerlines during a descent and was substantially damaged. The certificated commercial pilot and two crewmembers received minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed. The business flight originated from a field in Louisville and was conducted under 14 CFR 91.

According to the pilot, Flight Service confirmed a 2 1/2 hour flight window at 0600 hours. The pilot then sent up weather balloons at 0630 hours, 0700 hours, and 0730 hours to confirm acceptable weather for the flight. At 0745 hours, the pilot launched the balloon. Shortly thereafter, he "noticed darkening skies to the southwest." He stated he was flying about 500 to 1,000 feet above ground level (agl). He noticed the clouds continuing to intensify about 10 miles away and called Flight Service for an advisory. Flight Service stated that a level 3 storm was closing at 30 knots, so the pilot decided to land at the next suitable area. The area that he chose was in close proximity to an interstate highway and powerlines.

The pilot stated that he established a glide path into a landing area so that he would "clear the [power] lines by approximately 20 feet," He stated that during the descent into the intended landing spot, the balloon encountered an "unexpected moderate downdraft at the worst possible moment." The gondola struck the top static powerline despite maximum correctional heat. The balloon's envelope pitched forward and the gondola slipped downward onto electrified powerlines, causing an electrical arcing, rupturing the envelope and damaging the gondola. The pilot further reported that there were no mechanical malfunctions.

According to FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors, the flight was for promotional purposes. A radio announcer was broadcasting on board the balloon during the accident flight. The pilot had previously applied for and received a waiver to conduct the low-level flight from the FAA.

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