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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: CEN17LA118
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, February 20, 2017 in Albuquerque, NM
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/06/2017
Aircraft: THUNDER & COLT AIRBORNE AMER AX10 180, registration: N709TC
Injuries: 10 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The commercial pilot of the balloon was performing a local sightseeing flight. The balloon took off from a field, climbed, and drifted southeast. As the balloon approached an interstate, the pilot began a descent to land on a field near a university campus. About 100 to 140 ft above ground level (agl), the balloon entered a rapid descent. The pilot applied maximum fuel to the burner system to arrest the descent; however, the descent continued. The pilot stopped the descent about 50 ft agl and the balloon began to climb again; upon reaching 75 ft agl, the balloon gondola contacted power lines. The contact caused electricity to arc through the gondola, severing two of the four suspension cables. The pilot “hand-removed” the power line from the gondola, applied heat to the burner system, and climbed away from the power lines. The pilot subsequently made an uneventful landing on a soccer field at the university about a mile away from the power lines. The National Weather Service (NWS) surface analysis chart depicted a cold front, which was located immediately south of the area at the time of the accident and moving across the state. The front resulted in a shift of the prevailing wind to the north-northwest with an increasing pressure gradient behind the front. Some lifting would be associated ahead of the front and then would subside but wouldn’t be classified as strong downdrafts near the accident site. Though not conclusive, it is possible that the shifting wind and changing weather conditions could have affected the performance of the balloon, causing an increase in its descent rate during the pilot’s landing approach.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • The pilot’s delayed reaction to the balloon’s increased rate of descent during an attempted landing, which resulted in impact with a power line.