'Popping sound' heard before deadly hot air balloon accident: pilot
Last Updated: Wednesday, August 29, 2007 | 9:21 AM PT
The pilot involved in a deadly hot air balloon crash in Surrey, B.C., was aware of a "popping sound" from the balloon before its launch, a spokesman for the balloon company said on Tuesday.
A propane tank with the bottom missing sits among wreckage in a Transportation Safety Board garage in Richmond, B.C.
John Kageorge, of Fantasy Balloon Charters, said pilot Stephen Pennock is curious to find out why there was such a sound and whether it contributed to the accident last Friday. A fireball erupted in the balloon's gondola, causing its tethers to snap and allowing the balloon to rise into the air before all of the passengers could get out. The blazing balloon then crashed into an RV park, killing two people and injuring 11 others.
"Prior to the launch of the balloon, the pilot reports a popping sound," Kageorge told CBC News on Tuesday. "That is really the focus of his curiosity to see if that popping sound might be related to this sudden fireball that first surrounded him."
The Transportation Safety Board had its first meeting with Pennock on Tuesday, but he hasn't discussed the specifics of the crash with investigators, Kageorge said.
He said hot air balloon accidents are so rare that investigators looking at the crash are learning the basics of hot air ballooning before the investigation can really begin.
"The Transportation Safety Board has asked that we start at square one, so today's discussion really was focused on hot air ballooning itself," Kageorge said.
Wreckage from the balloon accident is being examined by the Transportation Safety Board.
Kageorge said the TSB hasn't asked why Pennock got out of the balloon before the passengers, a fact that some members of the public have questioned. Kageorge said the balloon had five compartments and a separate cockpit for the pilot so Pennock couldn't have helped passengers if he had stayed in his compartment.
Shannon Knackstedt, 49, and her 21-year-old daughter, Gemma, both from Langley, B.C., died in the accident.
'It's no fault of his': pilot defended
Bob Daws, who has known Pennock for 16 years and worked with him for a time in 1998, defended the pilot amid talk of a lawsuit from at least one survivor.
Daws said Wednesday that Pennock is a perfectionist, who did everything by the books.
"I know his procedure and whatever and how he takes off and everything like that and this is nothing but a damn accident and something," Daws said.
"Whatever it was, and the inspectors, the people, they'll find out and I'm positive that it's no fault of his."