Burlington, News

Pilot error caused balloon crash with train

A rapidly deflating hot air balloon shoots skyward after separating from its gondola last June in Burlington. The National Transportation Safety Board recently released the final report stating the crash with a train was primarily attributed to pilot error (File Photo/Southern Lakes Newspapers).

By Jason Arndt

A federal agency identified pilot error as the root cause of a hot-air balloon collision with a Canadian National train last year in downtown Burlington.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which spent more than a year investigating the crash, made the conclusion in its final report issued July 6.

According to the NTSB report, at about 8:15 p.m. on June 1, 2022, a hot-air balloon carrying three people slowly descended near Jefferson and Calumet streets in Burlington before coming into contact with the Canadian National train and caused serious injuries to all three occupants.

“The pilot misjudged the landing, which placed him too close to the railroad tracks and resulted in the balloon’s envelope being caught and the balloon being dragged by the freight train as it went by,” the final report stated.

The NTSB, meanwhile, also noted the pilot had selected an inappropriate landing spot for the hot-air balloon that began losing air while in flight.

The pilot told the NTSB he had taken off with two passengers near the Burlington Municipal Airport and drifted southeast, according to the report, adding lake effect wind moved in and forced the pilot to make an emergency landing.

“The pilot selected a road east of some railroad tracks and gave the passengers a landing briefing,” the report stated, adding the pilot recognized a train had been traveling northbound at the same time.

The balloon initially touched down on a grassy area east of the road, between the road and railroad tracks, skipping normally and stopped near the railroad tracks.

However, the slightly deflated balloon eventually caught one of the uprights on an empty lumber car as it passed, which lifted the balloon off the ground and dragged it.

“As the balloon was dragged, the uprights, envelope, burners and fuel lines separated from the basket and the pilot and passengers were ejected,” the NTSB report states.

The Canadian National engineer, meanwhile, told the NTSB he saw the balloon descending and diligently tried to slow the train because he wasn’t sure where the balloon would land.

“He said that he saw the balloon approach the train in his side mirror, at which time he applied the emergency brakes,” the final report stated. “The balloon then landed in the grassy area between the railroad tracks and a street. As the balloon began to lose air and become limp it started to blow toward the rail cars. The balloon envelope caught on one of the cars, 15 cars back from the engine, and the balloon was pulled off the ground.”

See the July 13 print edition of the Standard Press for the full story.

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