Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Balloon close encounters...

From the Age, a paper I respected when I worked in Melbourne.

It's a hell of a place to fly with only the most skilled dudes working
there. No I don't own a company there or want to fly there real soon again.
It has to twice as hard as flying over London, where I have made more than a
couple of trips. Very cool and impressive pilots, that's the dudes I met

I have flown over exactly the spot mentioned more than once so its not the
first time these dudes will have seen a balloon.

Must have been yet another slow news day balloon story.


Have you had a close encounter with a low-flying hot-air balloon? Send your
images and video to 0406 THE AGE or email

A hot-air balloon narrowly missed hitting buildings in Melbourne's inner
east during a scenic flight this morning.

Abbotsford resident Bruce Sims was alerted to the balloon when he heard
shouting from the balloon's basket as it flew over Abbotsford Street about
15 metres above the ground shortly after 7am.

"It was flying in very low along the street, just above the tops of the
trees," he told

"They were obviously trying to keep altitude by pumping more gas into the
balloon but...they were gradually coming down lower."

Mr Sims lost sight of the balloon as it floated over the nearby Abbotsford

Kiff Saunders, the pilot of the balloon in question, told that
he had "excellent control" of the balloon's altitude.

Mr Saunders, the owner and chief pilot of Melbourne-based ballooning company
Global Ballooning, said his pilots used low altitudes and low winds to help
land hot-air balloons.

"The fact is balloons will fly low to steer, there are different winds at
different altitudes and - particularly in Melbourne - part of the steerage
of balloons to be able to target landing areas is to be able to utilise the
winds between 1500 feet and the ground," he said.

A balloon pilot of over 16 years' experience, Mr Saunders said ballooning is
very safe.

"If a car is travelling down the freeway a metre from a car next to it,
everyone doesn't get into a panic even though that can be happening at 100
kilometres an hour.

"A balloon can fly over an obstacle by a couple of metres in perfect control
- it's not a near miss situation, it is a misconception to the person on the

"The fact is just across the river from Abbotsford is one of our primary
landing areas at the Yarra Bend Studley Park Golf Course, so I'm surprised
to hear a resident (complain) given that our flight path over Abbotsford is
quite realistic."

Abbotsford Convent foundation chief executive Maggie Maguire said a staff
member saw the balloon clear the roof of the building by about five metres.

It was last seen drifting east over Collingwood Children's Farm.

None of the farm's four-legged residents had been injured by the balloon,
she said.

The incident is Ms Maguire's second close encounter with a hot-air balloon
in two weeks.

A fortnight ago she was woken by the noise of a balloon's gas jets and
looked out the window of her Carlton bedroom to see the passengers in its

"I'm wondering whether they've got some new drivers or something," she said.

Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson said hot-air balloons
occasionally had to make unplanned landings when wind conditions differed
from those forecast.

"There is nothing inherently unsafe about that as long as it's done
properly, it's just unexpected," he said.

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