On March 3, 1996, at 1730 central standard time, an Aerostar Raven S49A, N6374L, registered to and operated by the Geronimo Corporation, was being inflated near Vidalia, Louisiana, when one of the ground crewmembers received serious injury. The private pilot and three other ground crewmembers were not injured and the balloon was not damaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed for the planned personal local flight conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91.

According to the pilot, the crewmember stationed at the left side of the balloon, near the inflation fan, was holding onto the handling ropes during the cold inflation. As the pilot prepared to ignite the burner and continue the inflation process, she heard "a loud noise" and the crewmember fell toward her. The pilot saw that the handling rope was "wrapped around" the crewmember's thumb which was "bound against the fan cage." The rope was cut to free the crewmember and he was transported to a hospital where his glove was removed and it was discovered that his left thumb had been severed.

Review of the manufacturer's flight manual for the balloon revealed that it contained the following cautionary statement: "Keep burner skirt handling lines, other balloon components, and personnel clear of the inflation fan to prevent entanglement with the propeller." The pilot reported that she had checked to see if the crewmember "was wearing any loose clothing that could be dangerous if he happened to go near the fan."

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