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N317W accident description

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Crash location 43.205278°N, 71.229445°W
Nearest city Northwood, NH
43.213971°N, 71.212287°W
1.1 miles away
Tail number N317W
Accident date 06 Aug 2016
Aircraft type Balloon Works FIREFLY8
Additional details: None
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NTSB Factual Report

On August 6, 2016, at 1850 eastern daylight time, a Balloon Works Firefly 8, N317W, experienced a hard landing in Northwood, New Hampshire. The balloon was not damaged. The commercial pilot and four other passengers were not injured; one passenger was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local sightseeing flight, which was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The flight departed from Drake Field, Pittsfield, New Hampshire, about 1730.

The flight was participating in the Suncook Valley Rotary Club annual balloon rally, held in Pittsfield, New Hampshire. According to the pilot, the wind was discussed during a weather briefing for the event as being 8 to 10 knots and forecasted to reduce to less than 5 knots before increasing again. He indicated that after he inflated the balloon envelope, "it was not rocking which means it was not excessively windy," so he boarded the five non-paying passengers and departed. The flight climbed to an altitude between 1,200 and 1,500 feet and was uneventful. The pilot selected a 5-acre field for landing about 6 miles south of Pittsfield. The landing was "a bit rough," and the basket momentarily tipped over before righting itself, then dragged for some distance before coming to a stop at the edge of the field. During the landing, one passenger fell inside the basket, fracturing his pelvis and leg.

According to a Federal Aviation Administration inspector, prior to the scheduled balloon launch time of 1730, several pilot balloons (pibals) were released to assess the wind conditions, which were determined to be "changeable." Thunderstorms were moving through the Laconia area (about 15 miles north of Pittsfield) at the scheduled launch time. There were 16 other pilots/balloons scheduled to participate in the event; due to the weather conditions none of them chose to launch that evening.

The 1851 automated weather observation at Concord Municipal Airport (CON), Concord, New Hampshire, located about 12 miles west of the accident site, included wind from 340° at 15 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, temperature 28° C, and dew point 16° C.

NTSB Probable Cause

The balloon pilot’s inadequate weather planning and improper decision to depart in reported increasing variable winds with nearby thunderstorms, which resulted in a subsequent hard landing and a serious passenger injury.

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