Witnesses to the accident reported observing the Eagle C-7 balloon approaching the landing zone in Ruther Glen, Va., from the south where another balloon had just landed.
A video obtained from one of the witnesses showed that, as the balloon descended and approached the landing site, the pilot engaged the burner. However, shortly after, the balloon struck power lines, which resulted in a spark.
Subsequently, the basket and a section of the balloon’s envelope caught fire. The balloon then began an accelerated climb and drifted out of the camera’s view.
The wreckage was found about six miles north of the power lines. All three people aboard died in the crash.
FAA guidance on balloon flying states that, if there is an obstacle between the balloon and the landing site, the pilot should either give the obstacle appropriate clearance and drop in from altitude, reject the landing and look for another landing site, or fly a low approach to the obstacle, fly over the obstacle allowing plenty of room, and then land.
It is likely that the pilot identified the power lines late in the approach and ignited the burner to climb but that insufficient time remained to clear the power lines.
The NTSB determined the probable cause as the pilot’s inadequate approach and his failure to maintain clearance from power lines, which resulted in a subsequent fire.
NTSB Identification: ERA14FA231
This May 2014 accident report is provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. Published as an educational tool, it is intended to help pilots learn from the misfortunes of others.