THE chief pilot of hot air ballooning company Global Ballooning has expressed regret for an incident last week where a balloon full of passengers struck power lines near Yarra Glen.
About 8.30am on Friday 22 May, while making a descent, pilot Brian Garth hit power lines on Old Healesville Road in Yarra Glen with his hot air balloon’s envelope, snapping one of the lines.
Power was cut to over 300 properties, including wineries in the area, as a result of the contact, and the envelope became draped over the lines.
Chief pilot Kiff Saunders told the Mail that disaster was averted by Mr Garth following his training, and that all of the eight passengers were in landing positions and uninjured from the landing.
He said that spotting power lines was difficult for pilots, and that the lines were spotted as Mr Garth was preparing for landing at a site about 100 metres away.
“The pilot did everything he should have done in that situation,” Mr Saunders said.
“Obviously, in ballooning, power lines are the single biggest thing that is of concern – and we do train for these things.
“He (Mr Garth) made sure the envelope hit the line and not the basket – without training, pilots can attempt to raise the basket, and that’s where you can get unstuck.”
Mr Saunders said AusNet Services were contacted immediately to shut off the power from the line, and that he and staff stayed on-site to liaise with AusNet employees sent to fix the line.
“We’re happy about that, but not very happy the situation occurred in the first place,” he said.
AusNet Services spokesman Jonathon Geddes said the passengers were “very lucky” to have escaped uninjured from the incident, and confirmed a line had been snapped by the balloon.
“It snapped the power line off and knocked it to the ground,” Mr Geddes said.
“Obviously, we apologise for the inconvenience caused by the incident.
“It was a rare incident, and we’re just thankful that there weren’t any serious injuries or fatalities.”
Power was restored to all of the affected properties shortly after 11am.
Mr Geddes said that AusNet services would be in contact with Global Ballooning and the appropriate aviation authorities about the costs of repairing the damage.
One of the passengers, who was celebrating his 90th birthday on the flight, was “upbeat” about the incident, according to Mr Saunders.
“I personally spoke to them all on site and they were all upbeat – they said they wouldn’t have any hesitation in flying tomorrow,” he said.
“It is a bit of a story for them, but it’s embarrassing for us.”
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