Aviation Safety Letter 1/2003
Winds become treacherous for a balloonist and his passengers: On January 26, 2002, a Cameron balloon, made a hard landing in rough terrain. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. Of the six passengers on board, two were seriously injured, and four sustained minor injuries. The balloon was substantially damaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. According to two ground crewmembers, the pilot launched a pibal (weather balloon) from the take-off site, which indicated that the low altitude surface wind was nearly calm. The balloon's envelope was inflated without difficulty, the passengers boarded, and the flight commenced. Initially, the balloon drifted at a slow rate of speed in a northwesterly direction. The pilot was in radio contact with his ground crew who were monitoring his progress. When the wind speed increased, the pilot notified a crewmember that he planned to land shortly, unassisted; there were no roads in his vicinity. The balloon touched down two times on open terrain, but the pilot chose to continue flying for unknown reasons. The flight ended after the balloon traveled approximately 13 NM. During the landing sequence, the balloon impacted the side of a home's block wall, and a passenger was ejected from the gondola. The balloon went over the wall and touched down hard against several dirt berms, and the pilot was ejected from the gondola.
The remaining five passengers stayed in the gondola as it slid to a stop about 300 yd downwind while the envelope deflated. A witness to the accident, who provided first aid prior to the arrival of paramedics, estimated that at the site the wind speed was never less than 15 mph. At times there were gusts to about 35 mph, and dust was blowing in the air.
Adverse weather conditions: Prior to departing for a cross-country balloon flight, the pilot received a weather briefing from an automated flight service station (AFSS). The pilot was briefed that the wind speed was 28 mph on top of the mountains the flight was to cross. The pilot reported that, "we decided that it was a little fast, but doable." The pilot reported that he was unable to obtain weather information for his destination prior to the flight due to the lack of weather reporting facilities east of the mountains. The balloon departed with a light and variable wind, it ascended to 11 250 ft MSL and its groundspeed increased to 52 mph as it crossed over the mountains. After crossing the mountains, the balloon descended to 500 ft AGL where the wind speed was 32 mph. As the flight continued, the pilot selected a field and attempted a high-wind landing. During the landing sequence the pilot and a passenger were ejected from the basket. The balloon then took off and ascended to 1 000 ft with the remaining passenger, who was a balloon pilot. The passenger took control of the balloon and landed safely 6 mi. from where the pilot and passenger were ejected.
The NTSB determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: inadvertent flight into adverse (high wind) weather conditions, which resulted in a hard landing. A contributing factor was the high wind weather condition.
Landing incident: The Cameron A-120 balloon was performing a sight-seeing flight with one pilot and four passengers on board. During touchdown in a field, the basket bounced once and on the second touchdown the pilot, who was positioned at the rear of the basket, sustained a serious fracture to the left ankle. The four passengers were uninjured and the balloon sustained no damage. The wind speed was reported to be at 5-8 knots.
Fuel exhaustion: From TSB Initial Notification (#A01O0328): A Quad City Challenger II/A advanced ultralight, powered by a Bombardier Rotax engine, was being flown on a local flight. After less than an hour, the aircraft was in an extended circuit, turning base for the runway, when the engine failed due to fuel exhaustion, necessitating a forced landing in a plowed cornfield 3-4 km east of the airport. On the landing roll, the left main landing gear dug into the soft surface of the field, collapsed (as designed to do in such circumstances) and was torn from the aircraft. The nose landing gear was also damaged and there was some minor skin damage. Neither occupant of the aircraft was injured.
Landing incident: During a local flight, the pilot of a Zenair Zodiac ultralight, was landing on a frozen river, when the nose gear broke through the snow and the aircraft nosed over. Damage to the aircraft was reported to be substantial, with a broken propeller, nose gear and left main gear, however the lone occupant was uninjured.
Gusty winds: The TSB reported that the Kitfox IIA advanced ultralight was on approach to a grass strip, when it encountered gusty and variable winds. The pilot was unable to slow the rate of descent, which resulted in a hard landing. Damage to the propeller, windshield, right wing tip, main under carriage, and lower fuselage was extensive. The pilot and passenger were uninjured.
Foreign object damage (FOD) in the cockpit Windsor: (CYQG) - An ultralight aircraft departed Runway 30, and was instructed to turn right on departure. The aircraft was observed turning left immediately after departure. The aircraft headed directly towards the control tower, at approximately 100 ft AGL vertically and 500 ft laterally. Abeam to the tower, the aircraft made an immediate left turn and continued to descend. At 25 ft, the aircraft did a 180° turn and landed on Runway 30. A local mechanic later advised the tower that the pilot of the aircraft had jammed the aircraft control cables with a headset.
A very close call: From TSB Notification (#A02O0087): A commercial pilot student was conducting a pre-flight-test check ride on the Cessna 172 aircraft approximately 15 NM from the airport. The Quad City Challenger II/A advanced ultralight was being operated by its owner on a pleasure flight from a private strip. Both aircraft were in level cruise flight at 3 500 ft when they collided. The Cessna was heading approximately north at an airspeed of 90-100 knots indicated at airspeed (KIAS), while the Challenger was heading approximately northwest at 70 mph (60 KIAS). The Cessna's right main gear tire struck the top surface of the left wing of the Challenger and left a tire mark approximately 4 ft long, starting at the left wingtip, about one foot aft of the leading edge and running inboard parallel to the leading edge. Neither pilot saw the other aircraft before feeling the jolt of the collision. Both aircraft were controllable after the collision; each returned to its respective point of departure and landed without incident. The only evidence of the collision on the Cessna was blue paint marks on the right main tire. Preliminary inspection of the Challenger indicated two bent wing ribs and stretched fabric. Weather at the time of the incident was good VFR, the sky was clear and there were no restrictions to visibility.
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