Four hot air balloons crash in separate incidents Saturday

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DENVER — A total of four hot air balloons unexpectedly fell back to earth in several separate incidents around the Denver area Saturday morning between 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.

One downed balloon was reported in unincorporated Boulder County near Highway 128 and Highway 93.

The pilot of the balloon, from Fair Winds Hot Air Balloon Rides, was attempting to land the hot air balloon about 9 a.m., the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office reported. The hot air balloon basket impacted the ground hard, stripping the wild grasses from the ground. The basket was dragged along the ground approximately 50 yards before coming to rest.

There were 11 passengers in the hot air balloon in addition to the pilot. Two women were transported to the Boulder Community Hospital with possible neck and back injuries.

The owner of the company, who was also piloting the balloon, was ticketed for landing in the open space since it is illegal to land there. The driver of a hot air balloon recovery vehicle was also ticketed for driving into the area to recover the balloon. The area is a habitat conservation area with ground-nesting birds.

Also in Boulder County, another balloon crashed in Louisville at Centennial Parkway and Century Place. Details were sketchy, but it appeared that no one was hurt.

In another incident, one person was hurt in Arvada near Highway 72 and Highway 93 when a balloon struck power lines, causing a small fire. The balloon apparently went down due to high winds, hit the ground and was dragged about 300 feet into the power lines. The extent of the victim’s injuries was not immediately known.

A fourth balloon crash occurred on Rocky Flats wildlife refuge. It appeared that no one was hurt in the accident.

All of the incidents were being investigated.

This morning’s winds likely caught the balloon pilots off-guard, said Gary DeKoevend, owner of Fantasy Balloons and a 40-year veteran hot air balloon pilot, instructor and inspector.

“I think it was just one of those things that happens,” he said. “Those kind of landings, we try not to have them. If we think it’s going to happen, we try not to fly. So I’m sure those guys up there thought it was going to be a great day.”

“They’re trying to make everything as safe as possible but once again our biggest nemesis is, of course, the weather. You can’t predict it well enough to keep stuff like this from happening.”

The balloon industry is heavily regulated. Pilots are certified every two years, and balloons are inspected every year. DeKoevend believes the industry is very safe, he said.

“In Colorado we have some of the better pilots in the whole country and have had the best records over the years. When you drive home from here, you get a better chance of getting hurt than you do in a balloon.”

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