LOW visibility forced a hot air balloon pilot to use maps on his iPad for navigation shortly before a heavy landing at Pokolbin in March, a regulator’s report shows.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB)’s preliminary report details how the Balloon Safaris service on March 30 hit trees, leaving several passengers injured.
Pilots of three balloons launched test balloons before departing Peppers Creek under clear skies.
About 7am the HVW balloon and two others were airborne when the pilot noted a thin layer of cloud. They climbed above the fog to 2000 feet before the pilot reported conditions were deteriorating.
All three pilots decided to land when possible and the HVW began dropping towards a landing site called Hope West. It entered cloud at about 900 feet.
“The pilot was unable to see the ground and used the map on his iPad to locate his planned landing site as he maintained a descent rate of about 100 feet per minute,” the report notes.
Catching sight of the ground about 100 feet up, the pilot levelled out and determined he was roughly 100 metres from the target clearing.
“The pilot estimated that his visibility at that stage was about five metres and that the balloon was travelling at about 12 knots,” the report states.
“He found the motion of the cloud very disorientating.”
Passengers called a warning to the pilot after a road and trees came into view, and the pilot told them to brace.
“[He] saw the trees and reported activating full burners to try and out-climb them, but the balloon collided with the trees,” the report states.
The ATSB states 16 passengers were injured.
Two were taken to the John Hunter Hospital with spinal injuries. The other two balloons landed safely.
A final report into the incident is due later this year.