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N11BQ accident description

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Crash location 42.666667°N, 83.616667°W
Nearest city Highland, MI
42.638086°N, 83.617165°W
2.0 miles away
Tail number N11BQ
Accident date 23 Jul 2003
Aircraft type Aerostar S81A
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On July 23, 2003, at 0732 eastern daylight time, an Aerostar S81A balloon, N11BQ, operated by Balloon Quest Inc. and piloted by a commercial pilot, experienced a hard landing at the intersection of Saddle Ridge and Middle Roads in Highland, Michigan. Of the 11 passengers on-board, 2 sustained serious injuries, 7 sustained minor injuries and 2 reported no injuries. The pilot reported minor injuries. The balloon was undamaged. The sightseeing flight was conducted under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91 and was not on a flight plan. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The flight departed the operator's facility located in Fenton, Michigan, at 0630.

The pilot reported in his written statement, on departure the surface winds were light. At an altitude of 2,500 feet mean sea level, the pilot estimated the winds from 040 degrees at 30+ knots. He reported descending to a lower altitude where winds were approximately 12 knots. However, about 30 minutes into the flight, lower level winds started to increase and he began looking for "larger potential landing spots." The pilot stated: "Winds on approach to a large open field increased very rapidly. The trees just prior to my landing field began to move violently as I crossed just over them and into the field." Upon impact, the basket reportedly was dragged approximately 170 feet and one passenger fell out of the basket. At this point, the pilot reported he secured the balloon and attended to the injured passengers.

In addition to the trees across the approach path to the landing field, the Federal Aviation Administration inspector on-scene reported power lines and a house were located at the opposite end of the field. The pilot reported that he felt he needed to land immediately with the wind gust and the presence of the power lines and house, according to the inspector.

One of the passengers stated that the flight itself was "good". She reported that during the flight the pilot estimated their groundspeed as 30 - 35 knots, and he remarked that this was fast for a balloon flight. The passenger noted the last 15 minutes of the flight was "just above the trees." She stated that it was windy on descent. She reported that about one minute before landing, the balloon basket passed through some trees. She described this as "minor contact," in which some branches hit her in the face. During the landing, the basket hit hard and was dragged through the field before it stopped, according to the passenger.

A second passenger recalled it as a "beautiful flight" until the landing. She reported that during the flight the pilot mentioned they were "moving at a pretty good clip," about 30 - 35 miles per hour. She stated that toward the end of the flight the balloon basket clipped a large tree and the branches hit the passengers in the face. She recalled that shortly before landing the pilot told the passengers that it was going to be a rough landing. She recalled thinking the descent rate was fast. She reported that when the basket hit the ground it rebounded back up momentarily. She noted that, at the time, she thought the pilot was "going back up." She did not recall any wind gusts during the descent and landing.

Surface winds recorded at the Oakland County Airport (PTK), located 10 miles east of the accident site, at 0653 were from 350 degrees at 7 knots. At 0753, the PTK winds were unchanged at 350 degrees at 7 knots. Winds aloft recorded at 0800 in the vicinity of Pontiac, Michigan, were from 015 degrees at 15 knots at 1,998 feet. At 2,999 feet the recorded winds were from 020 degrees at 16 knots.

The pilot reported no malfunctions or failures with the balloon during the flight.

NTSB Probable Cause

Failure of the pilot to maintain a proper descent rate. Contributing factors were the pilot's failure to maintain clearance from the trees, the reported high winds and gusts, the trees, the power lines and the house.

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