Study all available weather information when preparing for a flight

The ATSB is urging pilots to study all available weather information when preparing for a flight. This important safety message comes from the investigation into the hard landing of a balloon that left four people injured.

Hard landing involving Kavanagh Balloon B-425, south of Greta, NSW

The accident occurred on 13 January 2018, when the International Balloon Flight Company was conducting scenic charter flights in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, using four of the operator’s balloons. One of the balloons, a Kavanagh B-425 balloon registered VH-OKX, was operating with 15 passengers and one pilot on-board.

In preparation for the flight, the operator had reviewed several weather websites to obtain weather models for the intended flight. Bureau of Meteorology forecasts were reportedly reviewed, but as the forecasts were for the general area, the operator stated the he preferred local weather models for specific areas. He advised that he knew the upper winds were stronger but was confident with the weather model.

Shortly after take-off, the balloons experienced strong winds and turbulent conditions. As a result, the balloon deviated from its intended flight path and landing area.

The pilots of the four balloons communicated with each other regarding the wind speed and decided to land at the first suitable site. The predetermined landing areas were no longer available to them, as the wind change had taken them further east than they had planned. The area selected was a large open field that was not one of their normal landing areas.

The exposure of the pilots and passengers to hazardous weather conditions during the flight, and the injuries sustained during the landing, were avoidable.

The pilot of VH-OKX re-briefed the passengers for landing and advised them to rest their backs on the basket padding and hold onto the internal grab handles.

In light winds, the basket normally remains upright on landing. However, in winds greater than about 10 kt, layover landings can occur. During these landings, the basket tips onto its side and is dragged until the balloon envelope deflates. The baskets are designed to withstand these type of events and have padding and grab handles on the inside of the basket for occupant protection and support. 

Following this landing, the balloon changed direction slightly and was dragged about 40 m towards a large bush in the centre of the field. The side of the basket struck the bush, bouncing it forcefully back into the air. It subsequently came down on one corner and was dragged a further 50-60 m before coming to rest. Due to the significant ground impact forces, one passenger was seriously injured and three others sustained minor injuries.

The ATSB found that the exposure of the pilots and passengers to hazardous weather conditions during the flight, and the injuries sustained during the landing were avoidable and the use of the aviation-specific products generated by the Bureau of Meteorology would have clearly identified the presence of weather that was hazardous to balloon operations.  

Read the final report, AO-2018-004: Hard landing involving Kavanagh Balloon B-425, VH-OKX, 4 km south of Greta, New South Wales, on 13 January 2018

Last update 21 February 2019