Balloon company grounds flights following crash
Updated Sun. Aug. 12 2007 8:46 PM ET
WINNIPEG -- A hot air balloon company based in London, Ont., temporarily grounded its balloon flights across Canada on the weekend after one of its balloons, carrying a dozen passengers, crash-landed in a farmer's field north of Winnipeg Saturday.
Witnesses said the balloon bounced six times before the basket flipped upside down and burst into flames.
Two people were seriously injured in the incident and are now listed in stable condition in hospital.
Barry McGonigle, president of Sundance Balloons, which owns the balloon, said Sunday that he was shocked when he heard of the accident and thought someone was playing a prank on him.
"Balloon accidents don't happen often,'' he said in an interview Sunday.
"We've never experienced something like this, or the severity of this that we experienced Saturday,'' he said.
While refusing to comment on details of the accident, McGonigle said there have been some "inaccuracies'' in media reports about the incident.
He added it's up to federal transport officials to determine exactly what happened and provide details of the accident.
McGonigle said the pilot involved in the incident had been flying for the company for at least eight years and "is an exceptional pilot.''
"It's really hit us hard,'' McGonigle said.
The company, which offers hot air balloon flights in 14 locations across Canada, made the decision Saturday to temporarily ground all balloon flights.
"When we found out about it, we said `let's give it a day or two. Let's wait to see what happens, let's make sure that none of our people are flying with stress that they don't need, to effect their decision-making.''
Most flights were expected to resume Sunday evening, though McGonigle said flights over Winnipeg weren't expected to resume until Wednesday.
The company operates two balloons in Winnipeg and makes about four flights per day, McGonigle said.
After a day spent talking with passengers and investigators, McGonigle said he was able to go to the Winnipeg hospital early Sunday morning to check on the two injured passengers.
But he said because they suffered burns in the accident, the pair are in isolation rooms, so he couldn't speak directly to them.
McGonigle said he was "comforted'' that their conditions were quickly upgraded from critical to stable condition.
Passenger Bruce Kemp, a Grade 9 teacher from Winnipeg who was not seriously hurt in the crash, said the balloon's blow torch somehow got pointed inside the basket, causing it to ignite.
"It just didn't feel like it was really happening,'' Kemp said Saturday. "It was like it was out of a movie.''
He said the pilot tried unsuccessfully to land several times and 90 minutes into the flight told passengers to prepare for a difficult landing.
Kemp said he crawled out of the basket to see a man on fire and screaming for help while the man's young son looked on.
Hot air balloon crashes have been relatively rare in Canada, although in 2005, five people were injured in Caledon, Ont. after the hot air balloon they were in crash landed. Three years earlier, 10 passengers escaped injury when a hot air balloon drifted into a high-rise apartment building in Ottawa. In 2001, a 15-year-old girl was killed when the balloon she was riding in drifted into power lines and burst into flames near Ottawa.