A hot air balloon accident southwest of Las Vegas injured nine people, one seriously, recently, when the balloon gondola they were riding in made a hard landing. The incident highlights the potential dangers of hot air ballooning, a popular tourist attraction and enthusiast’s pastime in Nevada that, while generally considered safe, has a recent history dotted with tragedy and lax oversight nationwide.
As we look ahead to next year’s Great Reno Balloon Races, to be held September 11 through September 13, 2020, the attorneys at Benson & Bingham want to remind Nevada residents and visitors that there is no excuse when balloon tour operators cut corners on safety and put passengers at risk in the air. If you have sustained injuries or tragically lost a loved one in a hot air balloon accident, contact our team today to learn more about your rights to compensation.
Hot Air Ballooning: A Recent History of Rare, But Deadly, Accidents
Though rare, hot air balloon accidents have a deadly history dating back to the 1800s, according to National Geographic. In more recent memory, the popularity of ballooning festivals and balloon tour companies (particularly those concentrated in tourism-heavy areas) have led to accidents with multiple fatalities and serious injuries. In 2013, 19 people died when a balloon caught fire during a tourist flight over the Luxor pyramids in Egypt, making it the deadliest such crash on record.
Then, three years later, the worst hot air ballooning accident in U.S. history took the lives of 16 when a balloon operated by a tour operator crashed in Texas. An investigation revealed the balloon had collided with power lines, setting it afire. The investigation also revealed that the operator had a checkered history, and its chief pilot had multiple over-the-counter and prescription medications in his system at the time of the crash that likely impaired his ability to make safe decisions.
These findings shined a spotlight on the relatively lax regulations that govern the hot air ballooning industry. Texas legislators sought to enact laws that would have made ballooning safer, but as of this writing, those efforts still had not borne fruit.
Disturbingly, by the time these crashes occurred, a 12-year study of hot air balloon crash data in 2011 had already found that nearly half of all U.S. crashes involved paid commercial tour operators.
Hot Air Balloon Crash Causes
A wide range of factors, some predictable, some less so, can impact the safety of a balloon flight. Over the years, balloonists and their passengers have died or been seriously injured in accidents with the following causes:
- Weather-related. High wind and unexpected storms that bring lightning have caused numerous crashes over the years. Once aloft, balloons are at the mercy of these changing conditions until they can land safely (which can be made much more difficult by those very same conditions). If a balloon pilot fails to anticipate or avoid changes in weather conditions, tragedy can follow.
- Collisions with power lines or trees. Uninsulated power lines pose an extreme danger to balloons and their passengers. Collisions with power lines, often caused by a sudden strong gust of wind while a pilot attempts to land in a populated area, can ignite onboard fires or explosions, and electrocute balloon occupants. Collisions with trees, though potentially less catastrophic than a collision with a power line, can nevertheless cause a basket to plummet to the ground and leave occupants badly injured.
- Mid-air collisions. Sometimes other balloons pose a serious danger to balloonists. In the crowded skies over a balloon festival, for instance, a collision can cause damage to one or both balloons and lead to a crash.
- Pilot error. The 2011 study linked above found that pilot error contributed to a whopping 81 percent of all balloon crashes during the period studied. In more than half of the cases, the principal pilot error consisted of either a too-fast rate of decent or a failure to maintain clearance from hazards (such as power lines).
- Equipment failure. Though balloons have far fewer “moving parts” than other aircraft, they need what equipment they have to stay aloft and under control A failure of the burners that heat the air inside a balloon, or of the flaps and vents on the balloon itself, can lead to a loss of control and a serious crash.
If you plan to take a paid hot air balloon ride, do your homework and research the tour operator on the National Transportation Safety Board’s Aviation Accident and Incident System database and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Accident and Incident Data System database. These resources may help you identify an operator with a history of incidents who you may want to avoid.
Call a Nevada Hot Air Balloon Accident Attorney for More Information
A balloon ride gives passengers a bird’s eye view of the world. Anyone who has ventured aloft in a balloon can tell you it’s a thrilling and captivating experience.
Fortunately, accidents in hot air balloons are not common. Still, because there is relatively little regulation of the hot air ballooning tourism industry, operators have been known to get away with cutting corners on safety, putting themselves and their passengers at risk. Until reliable laws and regulations emerge, the surest way to hold careless or reckless balloon pilots and operators accountable for their unsafe practices is through legal action.
If a balloon accident has left you injured or mourning the loss of a loved one, you need a Las Vegas personal injury attorney who can help you recover every dollar of compensation you deserve.