Aviation occurrence briefs

Wirestrike involving Kavanagh Balloons E-300, Billinudgel, NSW, on 31 March 2018

Status: Completed
Investigation completed


Occurrence Briefs are concise reports that detail the facts surrounding a transport safety occurrence, as received in the initial notification and any follow-up enquiries. They provide an opportunity to share safety messages in the absence of an investigation.

What happened

On 31 March 2018 at 0745 Eastern Daylight-saving Time, the pilot of a Kavanagh E-300 balloon was on final approach to land near Billinudgel, New South Wales with a pilot and 11 passengers on board.

As it was a new landing area, the pilot had asked the ground crew following the balloon to check the landing site and adjacent road and report any powerlines. The ground crew reported none and the pilot directed his attention to managing the landing. Neither the pilot nor passengers had identified any powerlines on the approach path to the landing site.

Just before landing, at 3-4 kt and 10 ft above ground level, the pilot saw two wires in front of the balloon, about a third of the way up the envelope. The pilot immediately pulled the red rip line to deflate the balloon, but the envelope struck the powerlines, which snapped and fell to the ground. The powerlines short-circuited five times and then stopped sparking.

No one was injured, and a subsequent inspection found no tears, burns or abrasion marks on the balloon envelope. The owner of the property was advised, and the ground crew contacted the power supplier to report the incident.

Pilot comment

The powerlines had only become visible when seen against the sky. On approach, against the dark green surface of the landing site, neither the pilot nor passengers had seen the wires.

Once the ground crew had advised there were no powerlines on the approach path to the landing site the pilot had concentrated on landing the balloon, rather than looking for wires.

Safety action

As a result of this occurrence, the balloon’s operator has advised the ATSB that they have spoken to the ground crew about the importance of identifying powerlines adjacent to landing sites and communicating that information to the pilot. The operator’s other pilots and ground crew received a comprehensive briefing on the incident.

Safety message

The Australian Ballooning Federation’s Pilot Circular No 18, dated February 2012, emphasised the importance of avoidance and made the following points:

  • Pre-flight planning: Critical for ballooning, maps, charts and information must be current. Consult council staff, locals and farmers, topographic map in hand, for precise location of powerlines and those not on the maps.
  • Complacency: Familiarity and repetition regarding operation and location can lead to complacency. Be aware of this and hence be vigilant. Data shows the worst accidents are often made by the most experienced and skilled operators.
  • Crew/passenger briefing: Stress to crew and passengers pre-take-off and before approach: (1) you are only human and may not see threatening powerlines, and (2) to feel free to point them out to you.
  • Reduced visibility: Sun, mist, haze, contrast. Be vigilant and conservative under these conditions.
  • See and Avoid scanning technique: Avoid focusing too long on close objects or scanning quickly left and right. Focus at a distance and move attention slowly over small arcs pausing briefly for a few seconds each time to closely examine the area.
  • Country flying: Expect lines to be along roads with feed offs to farmhouses. Often, single wires can be identified only by first locating their poles, so look for them first and assume lines run between them. They also cross paddocks to connect to other facilities. In this case be aware poles are often placed among trees making them difficult to see.
  • Minimum safety altitude: Most power line strikes involve wires which are usually no more than 15 metres (50 feet) above ground level. Except for take-off and landing, staying above this height when flying in unfamiliar or risky areas is great insurance against hitting a wire.
  • Distraction on approach: Checks, fuel, pilot lights, passengers, stock, obstacles, stress, tunnelling. All are Human Factors aspects that must be recognised and managed early such that full attention is then available for approach and landing.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority web site includes a list of wire strike resources that specifically address this hazard.

About this report

Decisions regarding whether to conduct an investigation, and the scope of an investigation, are based on many factors, including the level of safety benefit likely to be obtained from an investigation. For this occurrence, no investigation has been conducted and the ATSB did not verify the accuracy of the information. A brief description has been written using information supplied in the notification and any follow-up information in order to produce a short summary report, and allow for greater industry awareness of potential safety issues and possible safety actions.


General details
Date: 31 March 2018   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0745 EDT    
Location   (show map): Billinudgel    
State: New South Wales    
Release Date: 02 November 2018   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Kavanagh Balloons  
Aircraft model E-300  
Type of operation Ballooning  
Sector Balloon  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Destination Billinudgel, NSW  
Last update 12 December 2018