Balloon crash pilot failed to listen to warnings

Pilot Adam Griffiths is lowered from the hot air balloon in Bozeat, Photo by Jamie Lorriman
Pilot Adam Griffiths is lowered from the hot air balloon in Bozeat, Photo by Jamie Lorriman

The pilot of a hot air balloon which crashed into high voltage lines in Bozeat has admitted he failed to listen to warnings about the possibility of unusual atmospheric effects.

The incident involving the 1978 balloon owned by Adam Peter Griffiths, of Maple Wood, Rushden, happened on the evening of March 25 as the 18-year-old, who had 26 hours of balloon flying experience, was attempting to land.

The teenager and his two passengers ended up hanging from them 15 feet above the ground while emergency services workers carried out an operation to release them.

In a newly published aircrash report Griffiths admitted that after being warned by another pilot, he failed to make proper allowance for the possibility of unusual atmospheric effects.

The Air Accident Investigation Branch report says that the pilot and one of the two passengers received minor injuries. The balloon suffered minor burns to the basket and holes in the balloon envelope.

The report states: “The balloon sank unexpectedly during an approach to land and struck high voltage transmission lines, coming to rest with the basket suspended about 15m above ground level.

“The three people on board, two of whom sustained very minor injuries, were rescued by the emergency services once the power lines were confirmed safe.”

It says the balloon had taken off in good weather and the flight had “progressed uneventfully” at about 500 ft above ground level. Four other balloons were flying with it.

The report also states the pilot identified playing fields on the eastern side of Bozeat as a potential landing site but the pilot of another balloon warned him that he had experienced “wind shear” as he landed in the same area.

The report continues: “The pilot continued the approach, flying towards the power lines and descending to fly level about 20 m above them.

“Suddenly he became aware that the balloon was descending steeply toward the power lines, so he put both burners on. He quickly realised that the balloon would not avoid the wires, so he turned off both pilot lights and took action to rapidly deflate the balloon, to minimise the risk of the more vulnerable basket and burner/fuel lines contacting the power lines.

“The balloon struck the power lines and then slid along them until it came to rest against a support pylon, with the basket suspended about 15 m above ground level.

“The pilot and one passenger sustained very minor singeing injuries and a small fire in the basket quickly extinguished itself.”

It says that the pilot who had gained his licence about six months before the crash reported that he had encountered a level of windshear on the landing approach which was greater than he had experienced before.

The report adds: “The pilot later considered that he had not made an allowance for the possibility of unusual atmospheric effects in response to the other pilot’s warning.

“Faced with a similar situation in future, he said he would aim to modify his approach accordingly or seek a more appropriate landing site.”