Saturday, November 25, 2017

Colt Balloons 160A, N976TC, operated by Damn Yankee Balloons: Accident occurred July 19, 2014 -and- Incident occurred September 22, 2015 in Worcester County, Massachusetts

An Federal Aviation Administration inspector takes pictures of the ill-fated balloon after it caught fire July 19, 2014, and landed in the yard of the home at 103 Brooks St., Clinton, Massachusetts.

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Windsor Locks, Connecticut 

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Location: Clinton, MA
Accident Number: ERA14LA347
Date & Time: 07/19/2014, 2000 EDT
Registration: N976TC
Aircraft: COLT BALLOONS 160A
Aircraft Damage: Minor
Defining Event: Controlled flight into terr/obj (CFIT)
Injuries: 3 Serious, 4 None
Flight Conducted Under:  Part 91: General Aviation - Other Work Use - Sightseeing

On July 19, 2014, about 2000 eastern daylight time, a Colt Balloons 160A, N976TC, contacted powerlines in Clinton, Massachusetts. The balloon received minor damage. The pilot and three passengers were uninjured, and three passengers were seriously injured. The local sightseeing flight was operated by Damn Yankee Balloons under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight, which departed from a field in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, about 1845.

The pilot stated that the accident flight was the second flight that day. After meeting the passengers and ground crew at the departure location, he provided the passengers with a safety briefing that included all aspects of the flight, including the risks involved and the flight procedures and timeline. While the pilot conducted the safety briefing, his ground crew assembled the balloon. The pilot then performed a preflight inspection before inflating the envelope. The passengers boarded, and the pilot conducted a second preflight inspection before launching.

According to the pilot, after launch, the balloon climbed to about 1,000 ft above ground level (agl) and traveled 170°-180° (southbound) at a groundspeed of about 5 knots. About 1 hour into the flight, the balloon passed over a reservoir, then the wind "shifted" and the balloon began approaching the town of Clinton. Witness photographs captured images of the balloon as it traveled over the reservoir between 50 and 100 ft agl. One witness reported that the balloon's basket was "skimming the water." The pilot reported that he approached the town at an altitude of 100 ft agl in preparation for landing should an adequate landing site appear. Shortly thereafter, he saw a large side yard next to a house at an intersection. He initiated a descent using the balloon's burners intermittently to maintain the proper descent path. Photographs showed the balloon approaching the landing site about 50 feet agl.

According to the pilot, as the balloon approached the landing site, the basket skid (attached to the bottom of the basket), contacted the top wire of a set of electrical wires perpendicular to the balloon's flight path. The balloon continued forward, causing the top wire to contact another wire; a large arc and flash ensued. The balloon then continued its descent to the landing site, where it touched down normally.

Video footage of the accident showed that the pilot engaged the burner several times as the balloon approached the landing site. Subsequent footage showed the balloon descending toward the landing site. As it descended, the envelope contacted the three uppermost powerlines, resulting in an electrical discharge, a shower of sparks, and portions of the powerlines falling onto the ground and a parked vehicle. The balloon then continued in a controlled descent to the landing area. After the balloon landed, the ground crew and others who had stopped to render assistance helped the passengers egress from the basket. Three of the passengers received serious electrical burns as a result of the balloon's contact with the powerlines.

The pilot stated that he decided to land in the town because the balloon had about 20 minutes of fuel remaining, and that sunset would occur in about 30 minutes. He also stated that he was unfamiliar with the area, and reported to law enforcement personnel that he was navigating with the use of a map application on his cell phone. In his written statement to the NTSB, he suggested that the accident may have been prevented with a steeper approach to the landing site.
Pilot Information

Certificate:  Commercial
Age: 66, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine Land
Seat Occupied: None
Other Aircraft Rating(s): Balloon
Restraint Used: None
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 With Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 09/01/2012
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 08/15/2013
Flight Time: (Estimated) 4388.9 hours (Total, all aircraft), 2708 hours (Total, this make and model), 24 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 16.7 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 3.5 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for lighter-than-air balloon, and private pilot privileges for airplane single-engine land. His most recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) third-class medical certificate was issued on September 14, 2012. He reported 4,388.9 total hours of flight experience, of which 2,708.2 hours were in lighter-than-air balloons. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: COLT BALLOONS
Registration: N976TC
Model/Series: 160A
Aircraft Category: Balloon
Year of Manufacture: 1989
Amateur Built: No
Airworthiness Certificate: Balloon
Serial Number: 1482US
Landing Gear Type: Skid;
Seats: 9
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 05/28/2014, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.:  3197 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines:  None
Airframe Total Time: 711 Hours at time of accident
Engine Manufacturer:
ELT: Not installed
Engine Model/Series:
Registered Owner: YOUNG DERALD E
Rated Power:
Operating Certificate(s) Held:  None

The balloon envelope and basket were manufactured in 1989. The balloon was powered by 2 propane burners, and had a basket capacity of 9 occupants. The balloon's most recent annual inspection was completed on May 28, 2014. At the time of the accident, the balloon had accrued about 711.1 total hours of operation.

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: FIT, 348 ft msl
Observation Time: 2352 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 8 Nautical Miles
Direction from Accident Site: 360°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Temperature/Dew Point: 23°C / 17°C
Lowest Ceiling:  None
Visibility: 10 Miles
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 5 knots, 120°
Visibility (RVR): 
Altimeter Setting: 30.24 inches Hg
Visibility (RVV): 
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Shrewsbury, MA (NONE)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Clinton, MA
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1845 EDT
Type of Airspace: Class G

The 2052 recorded weather at Fitchburg Municipal Airport (FIT) Fitchburg, Massachusetts, located about 9 miles northwest of the accident site included wind from 090° at 3 knots, visibility 10 statute miles, clear skies, temperature 22°C, dew point 17°C, and altimeter setting of 30.23 inches of mercury.

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Minor
Passenger Injuries: 3 Serious, 3 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 3 Serious, 4 None
Latitude, Longitude:  42.416667, -71.683333 (est)

Examination of the balloon envelope and basket by an FAA inspector revealed that the outside of the wicker basket had been scorched on one side and that both burner support covers on that side of the basket displayed thermal damage. 

Additional Information

Balloon's Flight Path

Contrary to the pilot's statement, the departure location of the flight, and the accident site location were consistent with the balloon traveling on a predominantly northerly course throughout the 1 hour 15 minute, 7-nautical-mile (nm) flight. Review of satellite imagery of the area showed several fields about 1 ¼ nm north of the accident site located along the balloon's established route of flight.

Balloon Manufacturer's Guidance

According to the balloon manufacturer's flight manual, section 2.9, LANDING PROCEDURE, when choosing a landing site, the pilot should allow for possible variations in the wind at ground level, and choose a site:

(a) Free of obstructions, especially power lines;
(b) Overshoot area should also be clear;
(c) Field free of crops and animals;
(d) If possible, look for upwind shelter to reduce speed;
(e) If possible, choose a field with good accessibility for retrieve crew, and minimum inconvenience for the owner.

The manual also states:

Do not fly into power lines at any cost. If contact is inevitable descend as fast as possible so that the contact of the wires is with the envelope and not with the basket assembly. Shut down the fuel system and vent lines before contact. If the balloon is caught in the wires DO NOT TOUCH ANY METAL PAR'I'S. If possible, remain in the basket until the power is shut off. Never attempt to remove the balloon until the power authority has arrived. Do not allow crew members to make contact between the ground and the basket until the power is shut off.

Balloon Flying Handbook

The FAA Balloon Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-11A), 7-7, "Maneuvering," states, "The balloon is officially a nonsteerable aircraft." Although a hot air balloon has no direct controls for steering, a balloon's flightpath can be indirectly influenced using the burner and parachute valve. The handbook also states:

Being knowledgeable of the wind at various altitudes, both before launch and during flight, is the key factor for maneuvering. Maneuvering, or steering, comes indirectly from varying one's time at different altitudes and different wind directions.

To initiate a climb, a balloon pilot activates one or more of the balloon's propane fuel burners. Rate of climb is adjusted by the duration and/or frequency of burner activations. Level flight is achieved by executing a series of burns that minimizes changes in vertical velocity. Descent is achieved either by allowing the air in the envelope to cool or by opening the parachute valve to allow hot air to escape. The rate of descent can be increased by leaving the parachute valve open longer or reopening the valve. Rate of descent can be slowed or stopped by activating the burner(s).

The FAA Balloon Flying Handbook further states that when contour flying, or during an approach to a landing site, the potential of collision with trees, power lines, and other obstacles is increased. For balloons, landing accidents consistently account for over 90 percent of the total number of accidents in any given year. The most common causal factors for landing accidents include collision with obstructions in the intended landing area.

In addition, these accidents account for the majority of injuries to pilots and damage to balloons. Accidents are more likely during landing because the tolerance for error is greatly diminished and opportunities for pilots to overcome errors in judgment and decision-making become increasingly limited, particularly in high wind conditions.

Additional Incidents

Over the course of the investigation, the NTSB became aware of other incidents with the operator. In October 2004, one passenger received minor injuries when, during landing, the balloon encountered a downdraft. The pilot applied the burners to ascend and overshot the intended landing site. In an attempt to slow the balloon, the pilot brushed the basket through a tree, during which a branch cut the passenger's hand.

In October 2011, a witness observed the balloon flying low in the middle of Northborough, Massachusetts. During the flight, the pilot flew below the tops of the surrounding trees and the balloon passed between and struck two houses, which sustained soffit and gutter damage.

On September 30, 2013, the pilot landed in the parking lot of a Kmart store in Auburn, Maine. The eight passengers onboard were not injured. The pilot reported to a local media outlet that the flight was going according to plan when an unexpected breeze kicked in around sunset. During the approach to landing, the balloon contacted and damaged a light pole in the parking lot.

On September 22, 2015, about 14 months after the accident in Clinton, Massachusetts, the pilot and his six passengers were uninjured when he landed the balloon in the parking lot of a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority commuter rail station in Grafton, Massachusetts. The balloon had launched from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts earlier that morning. The pilot advised that, sometime during the flight, the wind conditions changed. He originally tried to land in an open field at Tufts University, but instead landed in the parking lot which was about 1,000 yards northwest of the field. During the balloon's descent, it contacted an overhead guide wire that stretched between two light poles, knocking one pole over and resulting in damage to 3 vehicles.

Articles published by local media in Portland, Maine, and Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada, stated that the pilot's invitations to two separate balloon festivals were rescinded as a result of the open investigation into the Clinton, Massachusetts, accident.

NTSB Recommendations

On April 7, 2014, the NTSB issued recommendations to the FAA (A-14-11 and A-14-12) to address operational deficiencies in commercial sightseeing (air tour) balloon operations that have resulted in occupant injuries and a fatality. They were derived from the NTSB's investigations of several air tour balloon accidents. The accidents highlighted operational deficiencies in commercial air tour balloon operations, such as operating in unfavorable wind conditions and failure to follow flight manual procedures, that the NTSB considered a result of the lack of oversight relative to similar airplane and helicopter air tour operations.

In its recommendations, the NTSB stated that, depending on gondola capacity, balloons can carry more than 20 passengers per flight. Given the various safety deficiencies noted in the NTSB's investigations of the subject balloon accidents, the potential for a high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident is of particular concern if air tour balloon operators continue to conduct operations under less stringent regulations and oversight. Although such an accident had yet to occur in the United States at the time of the issuance of the recommendations, a high-fatality accident occurred in Egypt on February 26, 2013, when a commercial air tour balloon carrying 21 occupants experienced a fire on board, resulting in 19 deaths.

On July 30, 2016, about 0742 central daylight time, a Balóny Kubícek BB85Z hot air balloon, N2469L (NTSB Case No. DCA16MA204), crashed into a field after striking high voltage powerlines while landing near Lockhart, Texas. The 15 passengers and pilot onboard were fatally injured. The NTSB determined that the probable cause of this accident was the pilot's pattern of poor decision-making that led to the initial launch, continued flight in fog and above clouds, and descent near or through clouds that decreased the pilot's ability to see and avoid obstacles. Contributing to the accident were (1) the pilot's impairing medical conditions and medications and (2) the FAA's policy to not require a medical certificate for commercial balloon pilots.

The investigation further concluded that the FAA's primary method of oversight—sampling balloon operators at festivals and events—does not effectively target the operations that pose the most significant safety risks to members of the public who choose to participate in commercial balloon sightseeing activities. As a result of this investigation, the NTSB classified Safety Recommendations A-14-011 and -12 as "Closed—Unacceptable Action/Superseded," and made the following new safety recommendation to the FAA:

Analyze your current policies, procedures, and tools for conducting oversight of commercial balloon operations in accordance with your Integrated Oversight Philosophy, taking into account the findings of this accident; based on this analysis, develop and implement more effective ways to target oversight of the operators and operations that pose the most significant safety risks to the public.

NTSB Identification: ERA14LA347
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, July 19, 2014 in Clinton, MA
Aircraft: COLT BALLOONS 160A, registration: N976TC
Injuries: 3 Serious, 4 Uninjured.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 19 2014, about 2000 eastern daylight time, a Colt Balloons 160A, N976TC, impacted powerlines in Clinton, Massachusetts. The pilot and four passengers were uninjured, and three passengers were seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local sightseeing flight that departed from a field, approximately 7 miles to the south of the accident location. The flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

Video recordings show the accident balloon approaching the backyard of a house at approximately 50 feet agl. As the balloon approached powerlines, the pilot engaged the burner; however, the balloon did not gain altitude and subsequently struck the powerlines resulting in an electrical discharge. The balloon then continued in a controlled descent to the landing area.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for lighter-than-air balloon, and private pilot privileges for airplane single-engine land.

GRAFTON (CBS) – A hot air balloon pilot with a half dozen passengers on board crashed into a Grafton parking lot on September 22, 2015 – his second mishap in as many years.

“He said the weather fooled him,” witness Bob Abair, who spoke to the pilot moments after the incident, told WBZ-TV.

The hard landing landing came in the MBTA Commuter Rail parking lot. None of the seven people on board, or anyone on the ground, were injured, but three vehicles sustained minor damage.

Abair and his wife Mary were driving home when they spotted the low flying balloon and knew immediately it was in trouble.

“Oh, you absolutely knew it was going to crash,” said Mary Abair.

The couple scrambled over to help.

“It didn’t look windy,” Bob Abair said. “But the pilot said there were a lot of down drafts and he just couldn’t get up.”

Indeed, pilot Deral Young had just taken off from neighboring Shrewsbury with a group celebrating a woman’s birthday when things went awry.

He aimed for a field by the Tufts Veterinary School but the squirrely winds caused him to overshoot it.

Instead he wound up in the parking lot of the Grafton commuter rail station – where he snapped a light pole before hitting several cars.

MBTA Police are spearheading the probe because it landed on ‘T’ property.

“We were very worried he was going to crash onto the train tracks,” says Bob Abair.

“It was pretty scary for those passengers,” his wife added. “But they’re all okay. They’re fine.”

Investigators are likely to have an array of questions for Young, who flies for “Damn Yankee Balloons.”

Young was at the helm in July of 2014, when his balloon hit some power lines in Clinton – a mishap that seriously injured three of his passengers.

The former Navy officer has been flying hot air balloons for almost four decades – and is also a licensed small plane pilot.

“Obviously it is not a fool proof process,” says Bob Abair.

Fortunately today’s mishap ended with all passengers smiling in a group photo alongside their downed balloon.

“And the guys were taking it kind of casually,” Abair explained. “They were saying ‘what a bunch of great stories we’ve got!’”

Original article can be found here ➤

CLINTON – It’s been a little more than a year since a flaming hot-air balloon landed in a backyard on Brook Street, and while an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board is still ongoing, a preliminary report says the pilot held a proper license and the flight followed federal regulations.

The balloon, piloted by Derald Young, owner of Damn Yankee Balloons of Dixfield, Maine, hit power lines near Brook and Greeley streets around 8 p.m. July 19, 2014, caught fire and went down in a yard at 103 Brook St. Three of the six passengers on board, a family group from Rhode Island celebrating a birthday, suffered burns, but were released from a hospital the next day.

The passengers were identified as Kathleen A. and Leon Plouff and Alyssa Plouff, all of Cumberland, R.I.; Amy Plouff of Easthampton, Mass., Ann M. Guibeault and Nicholas Suffoletto, both of Woonsocket, R.I. The Plouffs and Mr. Suffoletto did not return telephone calls requesting information about the accident. Ms. Guibeault has an unlisted telephone number. It is unclear which of the six suffered burns. The pilot was not injured.

According to the NTSB preliminary report, the Colt Balloons 160A called “Raspberry Ripple” took off from a field about 7 miles south of the accident site. The report says video recordings show it approaching the Brook Street back yard – and the power lines - about 50 feet above ground level. As Mr. Young turned up the burner, the balloon did not gain altitude and hit the power lines, causing an electrical fire and an explosion. It continued to descend into the yard, where residents and neighbors tried to help the passengers, and called emergency crews from cellphones. Many had also taken cellphone videos of the balloon descending and landing.

According to an NTSB spokesman, Mr. Young holds a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for lighter-than-air balloons (hot-air balloons); and private pilot privileges for single-engine airplanes.

The spokesman said a final report is expected in a month or two.

According to Federal Aviation Administrative records, the balloon was made in 1989.

Police at the time said Mr. Young missed his intended landing site and flew over the Wachusett Reservoir; he was planning to land in a field off Route 110 near Clinton Middle School.

Mr. Young said Thursday he could not comment on the incident, because of a gag order imposed by his insurance company. He told a reporter the balloon did not “crash.” The NTSB report describes it as a “controlled descent.”

According to Mr. Young’s Damn Yankees Balloons website, he began his flying career in the 1960s while attending the University of Maine and got his first pilot’s license in 1970. He served in the U.S. Navy as a naval flight officer and founded his hot-air balloon company in the 1980s. In 1985, Mr. Young set a record as the first hot-air balloon pilot to cross the Northumberland Strait, between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Canada. He flew 13 miles over ocean and landed on Prince Edward Island's cliffs.

Original article can be found here ➤

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