Crash report reveals hot air balloon passenger broke ankle in 'hard' landing after flight from Northampton

Pilot used "planned collision" with hedge to slow down but failed to spot fenceposts

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 8:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 1:11 pm
Crash investigators revealed the balloon pilot deliberately flew into a hedge to slow down on landing

Air crash investigators say a hot air balloon pilot failed to stick to the training manual when a woman passenger suffered a broken ankle in a landing near Northampton earlier this year.

The pilot deliberately made contact with a hedge to slow down and told the two passengers to adopt the 'brace' position as he tried to land in a field after flying from Kingsthorpe over the M1 towards Daventry on April 20.

But he failed to spot fence posts hidden in the hedge in a field near Welton and the bump dislodged one of the passengers

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According to the Air Accident Investigation Board report, the British Balloon and Airship Club Pilot Training Manual "does not suggest using planned collision with trees or hedges to reduce touchdown speed" although it is an accepted method among the hot air balloon community.

It added: "Using planned collision with trees or hedgerows to decelerate is likely to introduce more challenges than benefits and has limited effect on reducing groundspeed.

"A particular risk is judging how severe that collision is likely to be, due to the unknown strength of the object into which the balloon will collide."

The 32-year-old pilot, with more than 400 hours flying experience, described the touchdown as a “small bump on the landing which is normal and expected with the wind conditions.”

But one one passenger then complained of pain in her ankle, which was later confirmed to be broken and required surgery.

The report revealed: "As the balloon approached the chosen landing field the pilot instructed the passengers to adopt the brace position.

"The eastern side of the landing field is bounded by a hedgerow and the pilot decided to allow the balloon basket to make contact with this to reduce the groundspeed for touchdown.

"He reduced the height of the balloon to bring the basket level with the top of the hedge and made contact as he intended.

"One passenger described the impact with the hedge as 'hard' and believed it dislodged her from the brace position. As a result, the passenger did not believe she was in the planned brace position when the basket struck the ground.

"The wind then carried the balloon past the hedge pulling the basket clear and it dropped approximately one metre into the field. The pilot described the touchdown as a 'small bump on the landing which is normal and expected with the wind conditions'."

"One of the passengers described the impact with the hedge as 'hard' and believed it dislodged her from the brace position.

"As a result, the passenger did not believe she was in the planned brace position when the basket struck the ground."