The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has advised balloon operators to review risk controls in relation to the safety of cold-air inflation fans. The warning came after a hot–air ballooning accident happened this weekend on the outskirts of Alice Springs, the third largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia.
The incident happened around nine in the morning at a location about 5 kilometers south of the dessert town. A group of a passengers was waiting while the balloon was being inflated, when a woman walked by and her long scarf was drawn through the mesh guard of a cold-air inflation fan. She was preparing to climb into the basket when the incident occured. The woman from New South Wales had suffered a serious neck injury.
The 35-year-old tourist was immediately taken to the Alicia Springs Hospital. She was in a critical condition and she fought for her life after the said freak hot- air ballooning accident.
The acting senior sergeant of Alice Spring Watch Commando, Drew Slape, told the Northern Territory News that sudden force was applied to her neck, leaving her with serious neck and spinal injuries. Mr. Bill Harrop, owner and manager of Original Balloon Safaris said: “A tragic accident, my sympathies to all concerned. Let it serve to remind all balloon operators of the obvious and not so obvious pre and post flight risk areas that need constant attention. Crowd and passenger control are a required subject in most countries balloon pilot’s curriculum, but if attention has been diverted to another area of importance, the risk is increased elsewhere. This report has been circulated to all balloon operators in South Africa to bolster continual awareness.”
Pilot Jason Livingstone purchased Outback Ballooning two days ago and said he was very disappointed that a customer had been critically injured. Ultimately it was a freak accident and everyone is upset about what happened. He couldn’t comment any further about the accident due to the ongoing investigation. But the former owner, John Wallington, said the company had an “immaculate” safety record and had been in operation for almost 30 years without any major incident. It was a bizarre set of circumstances where a scarf was caught in a fan. He also said that the only accidents during the company’s history involved the balloon basket coming down on a customer’s feet. Other than that, there was no incident considered as serious. Outback Ballooning has a fantastic safety record. It wasn’t due to bad balloon flying since the incident happened while everyone was still on the ground.
The ATSB investigators and the Northern Territory Police force were in Alice Springs conducting interviews and reviewing the balloon operator's procedures. Initial investigations showed that the balloon operator has modified the procedures relating to the movement of passengers who are near cold-air inflation fans. He has alerted the staff concerning some hazards including securing loose items. A preliminary report on the incident is due next month.