Aviation occurrence briefs

Landing incident involving Kavanagh Balloons G-450, Mareeba, Qld, on 9 April 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 9 April 2018 at 0700 Eastern Standard Time (EST), the pilot of a Kavanagh G-450 balloon was on final approach to land near Mareeba, Queensland (Qld) with a pilot and 11 passengers on board.

Having received advice by radio from the pilot of a balloon that had already landed, the pilot anticipated a fast landing at approximately 6 kt, descending rapidly after passing over tall trees and stopping before reaching a barbed-wire fence on the downwind side of the paddock.

Before descending, the pilot contacted the ground crew by radio and asked them to provide “weight on” during the landing, to reduce the distance the basket may be dragged before stopping. This is a commonly used strategy in confined landing areas, overcoming the buoyancy of the balloon by adding the weight of the ground crew to that of the balloon and its occupants.

The ground crew moved to the anticipated landing site and waited for the balloon, but rather than remaining at the edge of the paddock, monitoring the balloon’s progress and only moving in once it had passed, one of the ground crew entered the paddock before the balloon arrived.

The ground crew member was walking across the paddock, away from the rapidly descending balloon, but directly in its path, when the pilot shouted a warning. The crew member immediately dropped to the ground and the balloon’s basket passed overhead. The balloon landed safely, and the ground crew member, pilot and passengers were not injured. The other two members of the ground crew remained behind the basket and were not at risk.

If the ground crew member had not heard the shouted warning and responded immediately, the consequences may have been significant. The ground crew member could have been struck by the loaded basket.

The operator’s training manual did not specifically prohibit ground crew members from placing themselves beneath the path of the balloon during landing and the ground crew member, although experienced in performing operational support tasks, was focussed on walking through the long grass and weeds in the paddock, rather than watching the approaching balloon.

Safety action

As a result of this occurrence, the balloon’s operator has advised the ATSB that they have spoken to the ground crew member about the lack of situational awareness and poor risk assessment. The operator intends to amend the company’s training manuals, and ensure incidents of this type are covered in the initial and annual emergency procedure checks for all ground personnel.

The company’s Chief Pilot advised all flight and ground crew members of the incident, outlined the expectations when working or walking near balloons in low-level flight, and made the following recommendations:

  • Never position yourself in a location where the basket will pass directly overhead. Balloons can be subject to low-level turbulence or last-minute inputs by the pilot (such as venting) and can descend rapidly and unexpectedly.
  • When you are close to a balloon in flight, even if it is still attached to the quick-release, keep your eyes on the balloon at all times to ensure you know where it is going. Ensure that the balloon does not pass overhead. If it does, react immediately and move to a safe area away from the basket.
  • Do not make assumptions on the pilot’s intentions. These may vary from day to day, depending on the circumstances.
  • When asked to put weight on during a landing remain off to the side of the basket until it has passed and then move in from behind.

Safety message

The Australian Ballooning Federation's Pilot Training Manual Part 5 "Aerostatics and Airmanship" describes the responsibilities and duties of the pilot and ground crew in detail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration’s Balloon Flying Handbook is another detailed and valuable resource. In its section on Human Resources, the handbook notes that balloons differ from aircraft in their reliance on unlicensed, non-certified and even first time volunteers to support ground handling of the balloon.

The handbook goes on to make the point that “while all final decisions and the responsibility for safety still rest with the pilot, this broader than usual safety resource management model recognizes the human resources upon which every pilot relies for safe flight planning and decision-making”.

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: 09 April 2018   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0700 EST    
Location   (show map): Mareeba    
State: Queensland    
Release Date: 26 September 2018   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer Kavanagh Balloons  
Aircraft model G-450  
Type of operation Ballooning  
Sector Balloon  
Damage to aircraft Nil  
Last update 12 December 2018