On November 25, 1995 at 0854 central standard time (cst) a Aerostar International, Inc., Raven S57-A, free air balloon, N7019G, piloted by a private pilot, was involved in a landing accident at Stark, Kansas. The balloon was undamaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The 14 CFR Part 91 flight was not operating on a flight plan. The pilot and one passenger received minor injuries. A second passenger received serious injuries, which including a burst fracture to the spine. The flight originated at Stark, Kansas, at 0825 cst.

In the pilot's written statement he wrote that he checked the weather forecast that morning for the time of the flight, and the forecast for wind was none to light. The pilot wrote that during the accident flight he noticed the wind was increasing, so he decided to land the balloon as soon as possible. The pilot wrote that a strong wind gust was encountered during landing, causing the balloon to hit the ground hard, at which time he was ejected from the balloon. The pilot wrote that the balloon then flew a short distance, before contacting the ground ejecting the passengers. The pilot estimated the wind at eight knots, with gusts from 12 to 15 knots.

Two passengers were contacted by the investigator in charge (IIC) on November 29, 1995. One passenger who flew in the balloon on a previous flight before the accident flight said that this was the fourth flight of the day and that the previous three flights had been great. This passenger estimated the winds before the first flight as two to three miles per hour, and calm before the beginning of the second flight. The passenger said he did not recall any strong winds that day.

One passenger who was on board at the time of the accident said that before touchdown of the balloon the pilot instructed the other passenger in the balloon to sit down. She said the pilot instructed her to bend her knees before touchdown, and told her they might hit hard. The passenger said the balloon went up to approximately 30 feet after the pilot was ejected. The passenger said the pilot then ran after the balloon telling the passengers to pull the red chord. The red chord is attached to the deflation panel on top of the balloon, and can be used for envelope deflation or descents. The passenger who was standing at touchdown said she was not strong enough to pull the red handle and the seated passenger stood up and assisted her. With the approximate fifteen foot diameter deflation panel pulled open by the passengers, the balloon descended rapidly until impacting the ground, as described by the passenger.

Copies of the pilots operating handbook for the balloon were obtained by the investigator in charge (IIC) on December 20, 1995 from the manufacturer. The emergency procedure for a high wind landing states "Open deflation panel at 10-20 feet agl as necessary and maintain firm pull on line to facilitate rapid deflation and prevent rebound." The note following this statement says "In high wind conditions the deflation panel must be pulled and held open to minimize the sail effect on the envelope and bring the balloon to a stop as quickly as possible. Opening the deflation panel will also minimize the possibility of rebound which may result in a second and more dangerous landing." The manufacturers representative classified a high wind landing, for the average balloon pilot as anything between seven and 14 knots.

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