Tuesday, August 14, 2007

More on Canadian Incident

Operator defends safety of hot-air balloon rides

Tue, August 14, 2007

A serious accident in Winnipeg should not taint the public's perception, he insists. deck


The head of a London hot air balloon company says a serious accident in Winnipeg on the weekend shouldn't taint the public's perception about the safety of the rides.

"We have worked hard to build our business and do it safely. When this happens it shakes you up hard," said Barry McGonigle, president of Sundance Balloons.

A Sundance balloon on a recreational flight made a hard landing in a farm field north of Winnipeg near the town of Selkirk Saturday morning.

Eleven of 12 people onboard were injured. Two men, ages 43 and 50, were taken to hospital in serious condition with burns but have been upgraded to stable.

Initial reports indicated the balloon's pilot put the craft down hard in a strong wind. Its basket overturned and burst into flames after dragging on the ground.

McGonigle said one of the critically injured men was the pilot. He had been with Sundance about 10 years.

The accident is being investigated by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).

McGonigle said he flew to Winnipeg hours after the accident and met with the safety board investigators. He said the incident occurred toward the end of the regular recreational flight but he couldn't comment on the circumstances while the investigation continues.

"We want to find out what went wrong and if we can do something about it in the future, we will," he said.

Sundance suspended all balloon rides after the accident. The flights resumed elesewhere Sunday night, but not in Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg accident comes five months after a London Life executive was killed in a hot-air balloon crash in southern California.

Linda Dickson, 56, fell from the balloon's basket after it hit two power lines 16 to 25 metres above ground while trying to land in high winds.

McGonigle said hot-air balloon accidents are rare.

Sundance operates between 2,500 and 3,000 recreational flights from 14 centres across Canada.

McGonigle said the Winnipeg accident was by far the worst in the company's 25 year history. "We have never experienced anything like this. We have had hard landings, but nothing like this."

McGonigle said he was hopeful most people would not be scared off balloon rides.

"Thousands of people have flown in balloons with us and they know how wonderful it is. Some people will be put off but most people know how safe balloons are and will share that information."

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