Air balloon industry in shock over B.C. crash that killed two, injured 11
By: DIRK MEISSNER
VICTORIA (CP) - Operators of hot air balloons say they're shocked by the crash of a balloon that killed two people and injured 11 others in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey.
The flame-engulfed hot air balloon plummeted into a British Columbia trailer park, killing a woman and her daughter. "Without knowing exactly what happened, the circumstances and all those things around it, it's very difficult for us to understand why this may have occurred," Graham Rowlinson, a hot-air balloon pilot and spokesman for an Ontario company, said Monday.
Like people around the world, those in the hot-air ballooning community have seen the horrific video of the crash and they're stunned. "What we've seen on the news, obviously, those pictures are not very nice," said Rowlinson.
"They've been very shocking to everybody in the industry."
Rowlinson, who has 30 years experience as a pilot flying fixed-wing aircraft and hot-air balloons, said the industry actually has a very good safety record.
He estimated there have been about five hot-air balloon related deaths in Canada in the past 40 years.
After 14 years operating Skyward Balloons in Cambridge, Ont., Rowlinson said his company has a good safety record.
Fantasy Balloons, the Surrey company involved in the crash, has suspended its operations pending investigations into the cause of the crash.
Transportation Safety Board investigators plan to interview Stephen Pennock, the pilot of the ill-fated hot air balloon.
But board aviation expert Bill Yearwood said the pilot on Monday "wasn't feeling up to joining us to carry out an investigative interview."
Balloon accident investigations are not common in Canada, he said.
Friday's crash will become the third major hot air balloon investigation conducted by the TSB, including a crash two weeks ago in a farmer's field near Winnipeg and another accident in 2001 in the Ottawa area that killed a 15-year-old girl.
The board will try to determine how a fire broke out in the balloon's gondola before it plunged into a trailer park, incinerating three recreation vehicles.
The crash killed mother and daughter Shannon and Gemma Knackstedt of Langley, said Shannon's sister, Camellia Rogers.
They were on the balloon ride with Shannon's husband and their other daughter, Justine, who remains in hospital.
The family was celebrating Justine's birthday last Thursday and Shannon's 50th on Aug. 29.
Surrey RCMP said they will not confirm the names of the mother and daughter after the family requested privacy to grieve.
An RCMP news release shortly after the crash said some family members on the ground witnessed a troubled takeoff and saw the tragedy unfold. Other witnesses said passengers jumped from the flaming gondola.
A spokesman for the Fraser Health Authority said Monday two people were treated for fractures suffered after they jumped from the balloon and two others were being treated for burns.
TSB spokesman John Cottreau said it's too early to estimate when the investigation would be complete.
He added that board investigations do not lay blame or assign fault but will make public lessons to prevent future similar incidents.
The balloon that crashed was the largest of its kind in western Canada.