Hot air balloon crash investigation

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The Transport Accident Investigation Commission continues to investigate the accident of a hot air balloon on New Year's Day, near Ashburton.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is still keen to hear from witnesses to a New Year’s Day hot air balloon accident near Ashburton.

Adventure Balloons New Zealand pilot Graeme Church, of Methven, sustained “some pretty serious injuries” during the landing of an early morning flight but a company spokesperson said he had since “got his trademark smile back and he will start the recovery process with all of our help and support”.

Investigators looking into the accident wanted to hear from people who saw it or observed the balloon in flight prior to the accident which happened during landing on Lyndhurst Rd, at Lauriston on New Year’s Day about 9.10am.

TAIC chief investigator of accidents Harald Hendel said the commission was particularly keen to receive photographs or videos.

Witnesses should use the online form at www.taic.org.nz/contact-us.

“The circumstances reported to TAIC were that the balloon pilot was ejected from the basket during a rough landing, was caught in a rope and dragged some way before the balloon came to rest and the basket tipped over.

The pilot was seriously injured in the accident and taken to hospital, but there were no other injuries to the seven others reportedly on board.

The Commission had appointed a TAIC investigation team of two who were were onsite the day of the accident. They had largely completed their examination of the accident scene, as well as all initial interviews with balloon occupants and the balloon ground support team.

They had also collected key documents from the balloon’s operator.

Investigators had removed the balloon envelope, basket and other wreckage to a secure site for examination.

“We’ll be looking at the balloon, basket and other elements of the aircraft, its individual and type history, performance, maintenance, design.

“The operating environment is also of interest, including physical, weather, operating company safety system, organisational culture of the operator, traffic control, regulatory matters.”

TAIC spokesperson Simon Pleasants said the length of time for any investigation was “unpredictable” with some aviation inquiries taking anywhere from 18 months to two years to reach a conclusion.

“TAIC inquiries run their course for as long as necessary to gather and analyse all necessary evidence, draft a report, consult on it, and produce a final report for publication,” he said.

He said TAIC was a standing Commission of Inquiry, like a court, inquisitorial rather than adversarial, focused on lessons and recommendations for hot air ballooning operators to follow.

It opens an inquiry when it believes the circumstances of an accident or incident have – or are likely to have – significant implications for transport safety, or when the inquiry may allow the Commission to make findings or recommendations to improve transport safety.

Mr Pleasants said with aviation inquiries there was often an international element, which with covid could make things take longer than expected.