CEN09CA358
CEN09CA358

The pilot of the hot air balloon reported that he had made numerous calls to weather services prior to the balloon launch to ascertain the current and forecast winds. The local area surface weather observations indicated that the winds were consistently from the northwest at 6 to 8 knots. Around the time of the balloon launch, the winds were observed to be 300 degrees at 6 knots. The weather observations after the time of the accident indicated similar wind conditions.

The pilot and four paying passengers departed in the balloon. About 3 minutes after liftoff, the balloon was heading 180 degrees at 10 knots about 800 feet above ground level (agl). The winds on the ground suddenly increased to about 25 mph, and the balloon experienced strong wind gusts. The pilot reported that about 9 minutes after takeoff, a big wind gust “caved in” half the balloon and the mouth was “almost shut.” The balloon was traveling about 45 mph and was about 1,500 feet agl in an up draft. When the pilot got the balloon to about 500 feet agl, he informed the passengers that he intended to land at the nearest suitable field, and instructed them to prepare for a hard landing.

The pilot reported that he turned off the gas and pilot lights at 100 feet agl and the balloon was descending at 500 fpm. The surface wind was about 25 mph. At 20 feet agl, he pulled the vent line to open the top. The balloon hit hard, bounced in the air about 30 feet, and traveled about 200 feet before it hit the ground again. The balloon tipped on its side and one of the passengers partially fell out of the basket, but was restrained by the pilot and another passenger. The wind dragged the basket about 125 feet where the passenger fell out their arms and into a ditch. The basket was dragged about another 60 feet before it came to a stop in another field. The pilot and passengers were taken to area hospitals for observation and care. The balloon sustained minor damage.

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