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Final Report

Summary

On 21 May 2016, the pilot of a Kavanagh Balloons E-240, registered VH-VBM (VBM), planned to conduct a one hour scenic flight from Bundoora, Victoria with nine passengers. The wind was from the north to north-west at 5 to 10 kt. The pilot therefore assessed the balloon would track in a southerly direction and nominated potential landing sites at Burnley and Dendy Park in Brighton.

At about 0700 Eastern Standard Time, the balloon departed Bundoora in company with five other balloons. About 35 minutes later, the balloon arrived overhead Burnley. The pilot of VBM elected to continue to Dendy Park, along with another balloon from the same operator, to extend the flight to one hour.

At about 0800, the balloon in company with VBM landed safely at Dendy Park. The wind speed was about 10 kt as VBM approached Dendy Park. As the balloon descended to land, the pilot sighted a light pole directly in the balloon’s path. The pilot then lit the balloon’s burners to climb over the pole, however, a second light pole stood directly in the balloon’s path on the far side of the available landing area. Due to the balloon’s height and the wind, the pilot assessed that the balloon may collide with the second pole if the pilot attempted a landing and therefore elected not to land in the park.

The pilot then attempted to land in a golf course beyond the park, but the balloon did not track towards a safe landing area. The balloon continued at low level over parkland, however, the pilot also assessed this area to be unsafe for landing.

At about 0820, the balloon crossed the coast and tracked out over Port Phillip Bay. The pilot commenced a climb into a more westerly wind to track towards land. At about 0825, the pilot contacted air traffic control (ATC) and requested a clearance to climb to 5,000 ft. About 90 seconds later, the pilot advised that they were now at 4,000 ft and may require emergency assistance. At that time, the pilot stated that the balloon had an estimated 30 minutes of fuel remaining.

At about 0830, the balloon tracked back over land. The pilot advised ATC that in the 5 minutes it would then take to descend and land, the balloon would track back over water. The pilot elected to descend to conserve fuel and prepared for a water landing. The pilot briefed the passengers and descended about 1 km from shore. The pilot then enacted the company emergency procedures. When asked by ATC if it was their ‘intention to ditch the balloon at the moment’, the pilot confirmed that it was.

At about 0845, the pilot established contact with the crew of a nearby vessel. The pilot coordinated with the crew of the vessel to arrange the evacuation of passengers. The passengers evacuated one or two at a time onto the vessel over the next 30 minutes.

After evacuating the passengers, the pilot conducted a climb to about 2,000 ft back into more favourable winds and subsequently landed safely at Mount Martha, Victoria.

The pilot and passengers were uninjured and the balloon was not damaged.

This incident provides an excellent example of effective emergency procedures. Despite having completed thorough pre-flight planning and preparation including weather and field selection, a number of factors combined to create a difficult situation for the pilot. Thorough emergency procedures along with regular training greatly reduced workload in the situation. Declaring an emergency enabled ATC to provide assistance and coordinate emergency services.

 

Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 50

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