On July 3, 1995, at 0845 Pacific daylight time, an Aerostar Raven S-77A, N6317U, landed hard near Davis, California. One passenger sustained fatal injuries and two others incurred minor injuries; the commercial pilot and the remaining six passengers were not injured. The balloon sustained minor damage. The balloon was owned and operated by Balloons Above the Valley and was on a commercial sightseeing flight under 14 CFR Part 91 when the accident occurred. The flight originated from the Yolo County airport, Yolo, California, at 0715 on the day of the accident. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The pilot told responding fire department officials that she was making a planned landing approach when "the balloon came in a little fast and hit the ground. When it did, some of the passengers bounced out." Rescue personnel reported weather at the accident scene was fine and the winds were blowing between 10 and 15 mph at the time.
According to a review of Federal Aviation Administration records, there was no record of the pilot obtaining a preflight weather briefing. The pilot reported that "the weather briefing was obtained." The operator produced a weather briefing form that showed the weather briefing was obtained under registration N2559V. The weather briefing form is appended to this report.
The pilot stated that she took off after briefing the passengers on safety procedures for landing, particularly under "windy" conditions. The briefing included instructions to hold on with both hands, not to get out of the basket until instructed to do so by the pilot, and prepare for landing by slightly flexing their knees. At least one passenger denied receiving a preflight briefing, but did acknowledge an in-flight briefing.
There were no helmets available on the balloon. The flight manual includes helmets on the required minimum equipment list (MEL). The flight manual emergency procedures also requires that helmets be worn in the event of a high wind landing.
After 30 minutes aloft, the pilot again briefed the passengers on safety procedures for landing, and descended to check the winds. After selecting a large flat plowed field as a landing site, the pilot again briefed the passengers. The pilot described her descent as gradual at the rate of 150 fpm.
When the balloon had descended to 5 feet agl, the pilot made a final burn to slow the descent rate at touchdown. At between 3 and 5 feet she turned off her burner in preparation for touchdown. After the basket made contact with the ground, it tipped over in the direction of travel. It was at this point that the companion of the passenger who received fatal injuries reported that she "slid out of the basket" without any visible effort to restrain herself. The pilot said that the plowed field was rougher than it had appeared at altitude, and she felt this contributed to the basket tipping over early in the landing sequence.
After having touched down, the balloon ascended back into the air for a period of 5 seconds, traveling an additional 100 to 150 yards. The pilot concluded that balloon ascended because it had encountered a thermal on landing. She repeated her instructions for everyone to stay in the basket until she advised that it was all right for them to get out.
After the basket contacted the ground a second time and the balloon had landed, the pilot determined that three passengers were not in the basket. The occupants who were ejected were located approximately 10 yards from the point of the balloon's initial touchdown.
A postaccident examination conducted by FAA airworthiness inspecors revealed minor damage to the basket and instruments. According to the inspector's oral report, an inspection of the aircraft forms and records did not disclose any discrepancies that would have rendered the balloon unsafe.
Although the balloon demonstrated landings in surface winds of 5 mph in certification tests, the balloon manufacturer states that there are no established wind limits (launch or landing) for operation of the balloon, and operational wind limitations are at the discretion of the pilot, based on experience and ability. Normal and emergency procedures and performance data are appended to this report.
The basket is constructed so that all occupants maintain a standing position. The occupiable space of the basket is partitioned into five sections. The passenger sections are fore and aft (oriented with the direction of travel), and left and right. The occupants who were ejected were in the forward right section and the aft left section. The pilot occupies an undivided center section. There are no occupant restraint systems required, or available. A basket engineering schematic is appended to this report.