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N8004J accident description

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Tail numberN8004J
Accident dateJanuary 26, 2002
Aircraft typeCameron Balloons US N-145
LocationNorth Las Vegas, NV
Near 36.315556 N, -115.373056 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On January 26, 2002, about 0815 Pacific standard time, a Cameron Balloons US, model N-145, N8004J, made a hard landing in rough terrain about 13 nautical miles (nm) northwest of North Las Vegas, Nevada. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. Of the six passengers on board, two were seriously injured, and four sustained minor injuries. The balloon was substantially damaged. The balloon was owned and operated by the pilot, who was doing business as Ultimate Balloon Adventure, Las Vegas. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The fare-paying passengers' sightseeing flight was performed under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The flight originated from a vacant lot in west central Las Vegas, about 0720.

According to the pilot's two ground crewmembers, the pilot launched a pibal from the takeoff site. The pibal's drift indicated that the low altitude surface wind was nearly calm. Thereafter, the balloon's envelope was inflated without difficulty, the passengers boarded, and the flight commenced.

The balloon drifted in a northwesterly direction. The pilot was in radio contact with his ground crew who were monitoring his progress. When the wind speed increased, the pilot notified a crewmember that he planned to land soon and in an unassisted manner; no nearby roads were in his vicinity. The balloon touched down two times on open terrain, but the pilot elected to continue flying.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) coordinator, a passenger in the balloon subsequently reported that the reason the pilot elected to terminate his initial landing attempt was that his touchdown had been rough. The passenger had complained about experiencing a knee injury.

Thereafter, the flight continued for about 2 miles, and the wind speed increased. During the landing sequence, the balloon impacted the side of a home's block wall, and a passenger was ejected from the gondola. The gondola went over the wall and touched down hard against several dirt berms downwind of the wall, and the pilot was ejected from the gondola. The remaining five passengers stayed in the gondola as it slid in the dirt, impacted vegetation, and came to a stop about 300 yards from the residence.

A witness to the accident, who provided first aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, estimated that at the site the wind speed was never less than 15 miles per hour (mph). At times there were gusts to about 35 mph, and dust was blowing into the air.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a lighter-than-air free balloon rating. The certificate bore the following limitation: "Limited to hot air balloons with airborne heater." The pilot did not possess an aviation medical certificate, and the FAA required none. The FAA's records did not indicate any evidence of the pilot having a previous accident or incident history.

The pilot's total flight time, all in balloons, was 1,026 hours. He had flown the accident model of balloon for a total of 111 hours, of which 21 hours were flown during the preceding 90 days.

BALLOON INFORMATION

The Cameron Balloons flight manual bore the following statement: "...Prior to operation of this aircraft, the pilot must read this flight manual to familiarize himself with the features, performance, operating limitations, normal and emergency procedures, and any other information necessary to ensure the proper operation of this aircraft." In section 2.6, entitled "Required Equipment," of the balloon's FAA approved operating limitations, the following statement is made:

"PROTECTIVE HEADGEAR: Helmets are required for all occupants on board and must be worn during emergency procedures as specified in Section 3 of this manual....It is recommended that the minimum guidelines be:

1. Optional for take-offs and landings in winds less than 10 mph, 2. Utilized for all take-offs and landings in winds of 10 mph or greater, 3. Utilized for low altitude flight, including take-offs and landings, when wind conditions are gusty or unstable."

The FAA approved operating limitations also state: "It is strongly recommended that helmets be worn for the above conditions as a minimum."

Section 3 of the FAA approved flight manual is entitled "Emergency Procedures." In section 3.8, entitled "Preparation for a hard landing," the following statements are made: "Advise all passengers how to stand, where to hold on, which direction to face, and how to brace. As a minimum, instruct the passengers to watch the progress of the landing and to hold firmly onto the basket's internal handles or tank rims...."

Regarding passenger briefing and equipment, in section 4 of the FAA approved flight manual, the following statement is made: "Passengers should be issued protective headgear.... Pilots are strongly encouraged to require all occupants to wear protective headgear...during flight, and most especially during landing and takeoff, if there is much wind...."

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

According to the FAA's Reno Automated Flight Service Station, no services were provided to the accident balloon/pilot on January 26. Also, no services were provided by the Direct User Access Terminal System (DUAT) vendors.

The accident site is approximately 11 miles and 293 degrees, magnetic, from the North Las Vegas Airport. At 0753, North Las Vegas reported the following weather conditions: wind calm; visibility 10 miles; sky clear; altimeter 30.01 inches of mercury; and temperature/dew point 03/-11 degrees Celsius, respectively.

A witness in an automobile, who was passing the balloon during the accident sequence and who subsequently exited his vehicle, reported that at the time of the accident the sky was clear. The wind was blowing toward the north. Its speed was never less than 15 miles per hour, and there were frequents gusts to about 35 mph. Dust was blowing into the air.

A responding police officer reported that, upon his arrival at the accident site, the wind was gusting to about 30 mph.

WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION

The accident site is located about 36 degrees 19.9 minutes north latitude by 115 degrees 22.4 west longitude. The accident site elevation is about 3,440 feet mean sea level. The straight-line distance between the point of departure and the accident site is about 8.2 nm and 324 degrees, magnetic.

The initial point of impact with a manmade object was noted on the upwind side of a perimeter block wall around a private residence. The wall was abraded and was marked with a red color material transfer. A portion of the gondola was red.

On the downwind side of the block wall, personal property from balloon occupants, and from the pilot, was found. The balloon's envelope came to rest in open desert terrain in a deflated condition, with the attached gondola on its side. Broken vegetation and drag marks in the soil were evident between the downwind side of the block wall and the impact-damaged gondola. There was no evidence of fire.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

On January 27, 2002, an autopsy on the pilot was performed by the Clark County Coroner's Office, 1704 Pinto Lane, Las Vegas, Nevada. The indicated cause of death was blunt force injuries of the head and neck.

The FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute, Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, performed toxicology tests on specimens of the pilot's blood and vitreous. No evidence of ethanol, cyanide, or any screened drugs was found.

One of the seriously injured passengers reported that during the impact he experienced a serious scalp laceration, followed by unconsciousness.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

Balloon Examination Information.

The balloon was examined under the supervision of the FAA. In pertinent part, the following observations were made:

1. All envelope rigging and connections were found correct; 2. The burner pilot lights were in the off position; 3. The red deflation lines were found trailing from the gondola; and 4. No helmets (protective headgear) were carried in the balloon for either the pilot or the passengers.

Predeparture Safety Information.

Several of the passengers provided written statements to the Safety Board investigator regarding their experience before and during the accident flight. In pertinent part, the following was reported:

1. The pilot did not inform the passengers of any special clothing and/or shoes that would be appropriate for the flight; 2. There was no preflight safety briefing; 3. No helmets were provided; 4. About 1 to 2 minutes prior to landing, the pilot instructed all passengers to squat down inside the basket, grab hold of the rope handles, and not to fall or jump out of the basket after it hits the ground; and 5. One of the passengers reported that he was not able to find a handle to grab onto because other passengers were using the rope handle.

WRECKAGE RELEASE

The National Transportation Safety Board investigator did not take custody of the balloon.

(c) 2009-2011 Lee C. Baker. For informational purposes only.