Paraglider and hot air balloon collide over Arizona air show
- October 17th, 2010 4:32 pm ET
- By Joel Siegfried, Airlines/Airport Examiner
A powered paraglider (PPG) crashed into a hot air balloon at Airfest 2010 over Cottonwood Airport (CTW) in Arizona, about 100 miles north of Phoenix, at 8:00 a.m. local time on Saturday, October 16.
The glider became entangled with the balloon and both plummeted to the ground, according to Sgt. Gareth Braxton of the Cottonwood, Arizona Police Department, as horrified spectators helplessly observed the accident.
“It is a testament to both pilots that they were able to maintain some kind of control,” said the police Sergeant to a local reporter.
The balloon, which was ripped open, hit a chain link fence, before it came to rest on the ground, landing in an empty parking lot. The tear was located in the upper portion of the balloon, leaving a large amount of hot air inside the bag and slowing the descent. Fortunately, no one on the ground was injured.
FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor estimated that the two aircraft were at an altitude of 1,000 to 2,000 feet when they made contact. Initial reports indicate that no mechanical problems were observed. Both the NTSB and the FAA are investigating the incident.
Another balloonist, Ms. Jaimie Berry, who was 50 yards away from the collision said “I heard the balloon pilot yell ‘get back’ and then three seconds later it was too late. It was insane watching that from the air.”
Kenneth Ritchie, the 65-year-old pilot of the paraglider suffered head and possible spinal injuries and was taken by ambulance to Verde Valley Medical Center for further treatment. Eric Wadleigh, 53, the balloon pilot and passengers Susan Evans and Jon Bidolf were treated for minor bruises. Their injuries are not considered life threatening. The balloon passengers and pilot have since been released.
Airfest 2010 was an open house airport appreciation event with activities from sunrise to 3:00 p.m. It featured balloons, hang gliders, vintage aircraft, a recreation of World War II maneuvers and honoring of those who served, a pancake breakfast, and other family activities for a modest entrance fee of $3.00.
Powered paragliding (PPG) is a form of ultralight aviation. The pilot wears a motor on their back, using the paraglider sail for lift, and flies at speeds of between 15 to 45 mph. Most flying is done around 500 feet above ground level (AGL), but altitudes of up to 18,000 feet can be achieved. In the U.S. and many other countries, it is minimally regulated and requires no license. U.S. paraglider pilots operate under FAA Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR), Title 14, Part 103.
Hot air ballooning is very dependent on wind conditions, usually less than 5-10 mph, as balloons have very little control over lateral direction. There are some 7,500 hot air balloons operating in the United States, used primarily for recreation. The dangers of the sport include excessive speed during landing, mid-air collisions that may collapse the balloon, as happened in this incident, and colliding with high voltage power lines.
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