Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pilot of hot-air balloon pilot who crashed helped TSB develop proposed new rules

Pilot of hot-air balloon pilot who crashed helped TSB develop proposed new rules

12 minutes ago

VANCOUVER - The pilot of a hot-air balloon that plunged to the ground in a fiery crash, killing two people last month, conducted his own experiments to help the Transportation Safety Board come up with recommendations to make ballooning safer.

John Kageorge, a spokesman for the pilot, said the Transportation Safety Board has concluded a propane fuel leak had a role in the fire that burned through the balloon's tether, setting off a series of horrific events that ended with some passengers having to jump several storeys to get out of the balloon.

The board said Wednesday investigators have come up with four recommendations.

Kageorge said Pennock has worked very closely with the board, offering his eyewitness account of the accident as well as lending his expertise as an experienced balloon pilot.

"He had a critical role in the development of these recommendations," Kageorge said.

"So much so that after each meeting the pilot had with the Transportation Safety Board, he'd spend his evenings doing considerable experiments so that he could report back theories, concepts the next day."

Board spokesman Tony Pleasants said one of the board's recommendations has to do with the fact that there's no emergency fuel shut-off systems in hot-air balloons the way there is with other aircraft.

"(Other aircraft) normally have a master emergency fuel shut-off system and there's no such thing on balloons," said Pleasants.

Two other recommendations involve the general handling of the liquid propane gas system and the tether that burned through.

Pleasants said he doesn't want to comment on the fourth.

"The fourth one - I think I really can't say too much about it because if I said anything it could be seen as kind of finding fault and we don't do that."

The recommendations were submitted to the board's Gatineau, Que., office last week and will likely be referred back to Pleasants before they are finalized.

When complete, the recommendations will go to Transport Canada, which will then order safety changes to the balloon company or even the industry as a whole.

"They (Transport Canada) could focus on the possibility of changing the regulatory structure," Pleasants said.

He said his job is to propose something while Transport Canada is charged with taking action.

The flame-engulfed hot air balloon crashed into a B.C. trailer park on Aug. 24, injuring the pilot and 10 others and killing a woman and her grown daughter.

Shannon Knackstedt and her daughter Jemma had been celebrating Shannon's 50th birthday with the hot-air balloon ride with Fantasy Balloon Charters.

Kageorge said one or two of the injured remain in hospital.

"Some people's injuries will affect them for their entire life and for that, Steve and the company are very sorry," he said.

"Some people have been able to rejoin their regular routine in their lives, although they've certainly been impacted by the trauma. Some people escaped with less injury."

Kageorge said Pennock remains emotionally devastated.

"His heart is full of sorrow for how people have been impacted by this."

No lawsuits have yet been served on the company.

Fantasy Balloon Charters voluntarily stopped operations after the accident. The hot-air ballooning season closes at the end of September, but Kageorge said the company will resume flights in May.

The company will implement all of the board's recommendations, he added.

The accident was among three involving balloons this summer.

A gust of wind dragged a balloon into a set of power lines in Calgary earlier this month but the pilot and his eight passengers weren't injured.

In August a hot air balloon fire sent three people to hospital near Winnipeg.

The balloon landed in a field, flipping the basket before a rope caught fire and the balloon burst into flames.

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