Sunday, November 18, 2007

Witnesses describe winds that led to balloon crash in Iowa

Sharon Dunn, (Bio) sdunn@greeleytribune.comNovember 17, 2007 Comments Print Email

The high winds didn't take many residents by surprise Friday morning in a small farming community in Franklin County, Iowa.But the winds would ultimately take the lives of two Colorado residents flying cross-country in a helium balloon. A third passenger survived.That man, Doug Chaplin, 58, of Albuquerque, N.M., saw John Korth arrive at the crumpled balloon basket that had just fallen 60 feet to the ground and asked him for help."He said they left like Wednesday from Colorado, and ... they had been in the air the whole time," said Korth in a phone interview Friday night.Chaplin was in a helium balloon piloted by Dr. Thomas Boylan, 62, who was a doctor at a pain management clinic in Fort Collins, and Bradley Brookhart, 37, of Littleton. Both Colorado men died at the scene.

The men had taken off around 11 p.m. Wednesday from Greeley on a cross-country flight. Another balloonist, Troy Bradley, of Albuquerque, who has flown balloons since 1976, launched from Greeley in a different balloon in which he was attempting to add another record to his list of accomplishments."Troy was trying to set the world distance and the world duration records for the smaller size helium balloon he had," Greeley resident Tim Cole said Friday morning, attempting to allay fears of UFO sightings some in Greeley had thought they'd seen Wednesday. "Tom was flying a larger helium balloon as a training flight."Both balloons had lighting to permit flight at night, and Cole said Greeley is a good launching area because it's away from most major flight paths. Also, they launched from the Greeley area because Cole -- who has become well-known for planning and overseeing world record flights -- lives in Greeley.Bradley's balloon was still in the air, east of the crash site, and according to media reports, he was unaware of what had happened.

Moments before the crash, Marillyn Korth was working to get her shoes on so she could wave at the balloon from her porch."It was really very exciting to see the balloon and to have it turn out so bad, that was not fun," said Korth, 72. "It was quite windy here, and it looked like it veered to the left and the balloon itself took off. ... I thought it was unusual for a balloon to be in the air. Out here on the plains, it blows a lot. Our friend called and said it was going quite fast."She had called her son, John, to look, too.He watched, as it suddenly seemed to get hung up mid-air."I thought it was really windy for a balloon," the 44-year-old said. "My mom and dad called me, because we don't have that many balloons come through. I stepped back in for two steps, and I walked back out and thought, 'These guys are pretty low.'"Then I noticed, something's not right. The basket started to do funny things. They were caught in the highline wire, he said, adding that a truck driver who also stopped said he saw the men throwing sand out of the basket, as if to give them enough height to clear the lines."They were swinging pretty hard, and the wind was pretty hard, and it hung out there for a while," Korth said, then the cables attaching the balloon to the basket just snapped, he said."The basket fell to the ground, and I'm trying to dial 911," he said. "It was just freaky. I realized the call time was 9:11 a.m."Dick Johnson, a reporter with the Globe Gazette in Mason City, Iowa, responded to the scene about 40 miles from Mason City."The basket was on its side, and the balloon was a good half-mile to the north," Johnson said, noting that the balloon straps lay on the power lines when he arrived on scene around noon (around 10 a.m. Colorado time) Friday. Johnson said the power company was called to shut off power to the line to remove the straps, as emergency crews waited for investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration.Korth said Boylan and Brookhart, both face down, were dead when he spoke with Chaplin as they waited for paramedics. Chaplin, who landed face up with Boylan face down on top of him, told Korth his ground crew was driving about eight hours behind them and was somewhere in Nebraska."You know when you're waiting for help, it seems like forever," Korth said.His mother didn't see the men, as she waited outside the cow pasture that they had landed in. Later Friday, her thoughts again turned to the weather."Everyone's gone, and everything is quiet, and we have a beautiful moon shining here," she said Friday night. "It was a tragedy, but I guess it was a man doing what he liked to do. ... We just want to send our sympathies out to the families."Contacted later Friday, Cole said Boylan's family wasn't yet ready to talk and would appoint a spokesperson today. Chaplin was listed in fair condition at North Iowa Mercy Hospital in Mason City.-- Tribune reporter Mike Peters contributed to this report.CRASH FACTS* The course: Launched form Greeley around 11 p.m. Wednesday, landed in Omaha Thursday night, expected to land in eastern Iowa at sunset Friday.* The craft: Helium-powered balloon* Who died: Dr. Thomas Boylan, 62, Fort Collins; Bradley Brookhart, 37, of Littleton.* Survivor: Doug Chaplin, 58, of Albuquerque, listed in fair condition at North Iowa Mercy Hospital in Mason City, Iowa.Difference between hot air and Helium balloons» Hot air balloons fly because the air in the balloon is hotter than the air outside. Since hot air rises, the balloon rises when the air in the balloon heats up. Pilots control their balloons by heating more air or slowly releasing the air, thus allowing it to cool off.» Helium balloons fly because the Helium gas inside the balloon is lighter than the air outside the balloon. They rise when the Helium is pumped into the balloon. Typically, helium balloons are harder to fly.

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