Hot-air balloon expert: Pilots more likely to run into obstacles taking off, landing

Posted at 7:49 PM, May 10, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-10 23:34:21-04

CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - A hot-air balloon expert with ties to Central Virginia is offering insight into the deadly hot-air balloon accident in Caroline County just before sunset Friday.

CBS 6 News received a video of the hot-air balloon, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) classified as an Eagle model, when it took off from Meadow Event Park Friday night.

Scott Armstrong said that similar accidents are rare, but pointed out that there are possible risks involved with flying.

Armstrong said that while flying a hot-air balloon is not a dangerous sport, he said pilots are more likely to run into obstacles when taking off and landing.  He also told us balloon flights are more likely to happen in the mornings, a little after sunrise, and evenings, a few hours before sunset.

"But then you also have that factor of the sun being at a little lower angle that can pose a problem when you're taking off or landing -- and seeing a obstacle that may be there," Armstrong said. "And power lines are definitely one of the harder ones to see. Sometimes the sun reflects off of them greatly. Sometimes they blend right into the ground."

The NTSB has investigated 775 hot-air balloon incidents in the U.S. since 1964. Seventy of those incidents involved fatalities. Sixteen people died while hot air ballooning from 2002 to 2012, according to the NTSB.

All hot-air balloons operated in the U.S. must be inspected annually or every 100 hours of flight time if operated commercially, according to Federal Aviation Administration rules.

Hot-air balloon pilots are also required to successfully complete a flight review every two years.