DEN06LA016
DEN06LA016

On October 2, 2005, at 1619 mountain standard time, an Abruzzo Grom-1 balloon, N96YD, registered to Peak Express Balloon, Inc., and piloted by a commercial pilot, sustained minor damage when it struck power lines near Kendall, Kansas. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal cross-country flight was being conducted under Title 14 CFR Part 91. The pilot was seriously injured. The copilot was not injured. The flight originated at Albuquerque, New Mexico, on October 1, 2005, approximately 1846. The balloon pilots were participating (and were the defending champions) in the (49th annual) 2005 Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett International Gas Balloon Race.

The balloon, USA-1, was one of 26 balloons that took off from Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta Park: 14 balloons were in the Gordon Bennett race, 12 balloons were in the America's Challenge gas balloon race. The balloon that traveled the greatest distance was the winner of the race. USA-1 had been aloft for 22 hours, and had traversed some 350 to 400 miles when the accident occurred.

The pilot stated that the balloon was cruising about 35 mph in "smooth air" at 7,000 feet mean sea level (msl) when it encountered "mid-afternoon dry thermals" and a "sudden and unexpected downdraft." The dry thermals forced the balloon into an uncontrolled descent. The crew attempted to arrest the balloon's descent rate by throwing ballast overboard. The pilot said that the uncontrolled descent was "extreme" and that the veriometer was "pegged" at 1,500 feet per minute descent rate. His attempt to arrest the descent was unsuccessful and the balloon collided with the "upper most wire of a set of power lines" along the south side of a farm road near Lakin, Kansas. The entangled gondola severed the power lines and the balloon ascended rapidly. As the balloon ascended, the gondola "pitched violently as much as 60 degrees" and the pilot fell out of the gondola. He hit the ground after falling from a height approximately 30 to 40 feet.

The balloon ascended with the copilot still on board. Using a satellite telephone, the copilot notified the chase crew and gave them the location of the accident. The balloon ascended to 14,000 feet msl before she was able to "[execute] a controlled descent." The balloon hit the ground hard approximately 8 miles from the accident site, near Lakin, Kansas. About the same time, power monitors for the Pioneer Electric Company detected a fault and a crew was dispatched. Along with fire and rescue crews, they located the pilot about 300 feet east of the intersection of Roads 35 and Y in Hamilton County, near U.S. Highway 50. He had been unconscious for about 1 hour, 30 minutes, and was found walking towards a farmhouse.

The pilot said, "Collectively, we have flown dozens of cross-country gas-balloon flights, and the sudden onset and severity of this weather phenomenon was unprecedented in our collective experience." He suffered a fractured pelvis, displaced ribs, and a shattered forearm and wrist.

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