Experienced pilot handles balloon fire situation

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

During the final task of the 2013 Louisiana Hot Air Balloon Championship, one pilot’s approach to the target area became a little exciting as the fire from his burners became more visible than normal.

The pilot was attempting to correct a turn, when he vented the balloon to allow a steeper than normal descent into the target area. The result caused overheating and burnt two panels of the colorful fabric just above the throat or lower portion of the balloon.

A few spectators at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center were concerned, but The Creole has learned that according to the Ascension Festivals and Cultural Council, the occurrence was something the pilot was more than qualified to handle.

"A pilot at the event took the action he needed to correct a turn. He let out some volume in the balloon in order to allow a decent in the hopes of landing where he intended. This action led to a minimal amount of overheating. Representatives with the Federal Aviation Administration were on site and witnessed the occurrence and no action was taken. I assure you they are trained in the operation of hot air balloons with one being rated to fly balloons themselves and the other being an air worthiness specialist. It is safe to say, they were amused, as were all the balloon operation staff. Had it happened earlier in the event, it would have been the source of a good color, light-hearted subject in the next briefing," said Charlotte Guedry, Media Director for the event.

Championship Flight Director Harold “Bubba” Cliver, who was on site at the time and along with his entire staff witnessed the occurrence.

Cliver felt the situation was handled effectively and with great professionalism by the pilot. He further explained that it is important to understand that in balloon competitions, pilots have to be more skilled in their flying abilities as they need to maneuver outside of what could be called a typical gentle sight-seeing flight.

Cliver, a Texan, equated in his own terms.

“It was not much different from a barrel racer at a rodeo," he said. "Sometimes you have to put the whip to the horse to get 'em going a bit faster. In his case it had the same result. He left a whelp on his balloon. It's a good thing balloons don’t have a memory like your horse.”

Safety officers who were on site also felt confident in the handling of the situation.

“The event did a great job at controlling and reacting to a minor problem that could have been much worse,” said Safety Officer Mark Trillanes. “The crowd was restricted from the area, and staff, security and EMS were on the scene before he even hit the ground, just to make sure everything was safe and under control. There were no injuries to the pilot, the crew or any spectators.”

When asked about the quick deflation or appearance of a balloon collapse on touch down, Cliver explained that once he touched down, in order to keep the balloon on the ground, the pilot elected wisely to deflate the balloon. With the very light winds, that simply meant the balloon was going to deflate straight down. A normal deflation of the balloon is down slowly and a more controlled pulling the balloon over on its side.

Once again, Cliver went back to his rodeo term.

He said, “I gotta hand it to him, he put her back in the barn pretty quick!”