On July 14, 1998, at 1945 eastern daylight time, a passenger received serious injury on a Cameron A105, N1601A, piloted by a commercial pilot during landing near Howell, Michigan. The balloon flight was operated under 14 CFR Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed with cumulonimbus clouds in the area at the time of the accident. The pilot and remaining passengers received no injuries. The flight originated in Howell, Michigan on a sightseeing flight at 1930.

The pilot stated that he had obtained two weather briefings from the Lansing Flight Service Station, one at 1430 and the second at 1745. The forecast indicated the winds to be 240 degrees at 10 knots until 2000 and then 220 degrees at 5 knots until 2200 with no convective activity for his flight area. The pilot gave two passenger briefings regarding windy landing instructions, one prior to takeoff and one during flight. The flight departed from Howell at 1930 with winds from the west at 8 knots. As the flight progressed, the pilot noticed dark clouds moving south towards his position. Approximately 15 minutes into the flight, he decided to find a place to land. At 300' agl, the wind changed to 180 degrees at 20 knots. The pilot said that he then noticed power lines in his new flight direction and elected to land in a soybean field rather than attempt to fly over them. He reported that he landed hard and was dragged approximately 100' at 15-20 knots.

The pilot possesses a free balloon rating limited to hot air balloons with airborne heaters. The pilot's total time is 1430 hours, all of which is in lighter than air aircraft. The pilot received a biennial flight review five months prior to the accident.

A Federal Aviation Administration Safety Inspector residing in Howell, Michigan reported, in a written statement, that he had noticed the formation of a large cumulous cloud northwest of his residence between 1915 and 1920. At that time, the wind velocity changed from 230 degrees at 10 knots to approximately 290-300 degrees at 15 knots. At approximately 1935, he noticed a hot-air balloon at a distance of 3 miles west of his location, at an altitude of approximately 600' agl and a distance of no more than a mile or two south of the center of the black cloud area. A windsock on the inspector's home was indicating a wind velocity of approximately 20 knots gusting 25 knots from 270 degrees. He observed the balloon's course to be 160 degrees with an altitude of 600" agl and still approximately 3 miles from his location. He watched the balloon begin to descend and distort until he lost sight of it after descending behind trees. The inspector undertook a search and located the balloon at 2043 in a soybean field with ground scars of approximately 200-300 feet in length.

There are no wind limitations for the Cameron A105 balloon. The maximum surface wind speed during launch and landing during FAA type certification flight tests were:

For launch 10 mph For landing 15 mph

Advisory Circular 00-45, Aviation Weather Services, states, "that it is advantageous for the pilot to make a final weather check immediately before departure if at all possible". Advisory Circular 00-6A, Aviation Weather, states, "Clouds help you visualize weather conditions and potential weather hazards you might encounter in flight". Several figures of cloud formations with associated hazards are also presented, including cumulonimbus.

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