Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Pilot of burning balloon charged 22 years ago Sunny Freeman, CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

VANCOUVER - The pilot of a hot-air balloon that mysteriously caught fire Friday, killing a mother and daughter, faced three counts of reckless endangerment in a 1985 - believed to be the first charges involving hot-air ballooning in Canada.

The accident happened in Surrey, B.C., about 45 kilometres southeast of Vancouver.

Steve Pennock was initially convicted of two counts and fined $750 under the Aeronautics Act after a precarious flight in September 1985. But an appeal court later overturned his convictions.

During the flight, court documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show several passengers were frightened when the balloon dipped into a lake near Victoria, instead of landing in a nearby field.

Later in the flight, the balloon lifted a 12-year old boy 20 metres in the air after taking off while the boy was clinging to a rope holding the balloon to the ground.

"The flight was alleged to have been operated in such a negligent or reckless manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger the life or property of the passengers," according to the court documents.

Pennock was convicted of two counts - the ones related to dipping into the lake and taking off with the boy in tow - in 1987.

But the County Court of Vancouver Island overturned the convictions later in 1987. The judge wrote there was insufficient evidence to determine whether Pennock was "reckless or negligent to a degree deserving of punishment."

Pennock has been the owner and chief pilot of Fantasy Balloon Charters in Langley for 16 years. He piloted the 12-passenger balloon that slammed into two homes in the Hazelmere RV and Campground in south Surrey.

Pennock escaped with first-degree burns to his arm after jumping from the flame-engulfed balloon that killed a mother and daughter, Shannon and Gemma Knackstedt, of Langley, B.C.

Doreen Knackstedt confirmed Monday that her daughter in-law and granddaughter died in the blaze.

Eleven others were sent to hospital after the balloon crash around Friday evening.

Monte Aguilar, whose mother, Diana Rutledge, broke bones in her feet when she jumped from a height of five storeys from the burning balloon, criticized the pilot's actions.

"It doesn't make sense to me that the guy got out first. . . . The lighter the basket, the faster it goes up," Aguilar said Sunday.

Pennock could not be reached Monday, but John Kageorge, a balloon crew member and employee of Fantasy Balloon Charters, said Pennock was helpless in Friday night's crash.

"He was in a ball of fire at the centre of the cockpit," Kageorge said.

No charges have been laid in the crash. The Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

Vancouver Sun

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