Near the end of cruise, the balloon was flying in a convective atmosphere generating wind variations. The pilot made the decision to land. In accordance with his instructions, the passengers adopted the safety position. During the descent, the vertical speed became high despite burner inputs by the pilot. Near the ground, the balloon’s flight path turned to the left by several dozen degrees. The pilot activated the turning vents to position the long side of the rectangular basket perpendicular to the flight path and then activated the rapid deflation system. The pilot lights were on. The balloon struck the ground hard, then regained height. On the second impact, the basket turned over completely. A fire broke out during the evacuation of the occupants.
The investigation showed that the accident was due to the combination of the following factors:
- inadequate consideration given to the meteorological conditions, which exposed the balloon to turbulence and variations in the force and direction of the wind, probably of a convective nature, which in the end caused the basket to turn over;
- the failure to turn off the pilot lights before the first impact. This could be due to the pilot focusing his attention on controlling the balloon’s rate of descent and orientation, during a hard and fast landing, generating stress.
The following factors may have contributed, though it was not possible to determine the degree to which they contributed:
- the practice, the extent of which could not be precisely assessed, of landing with one or more pilot lights lit, which makes it unlikely that the pilot will instinctively react and turn them off in a fast or hard landing situation;
- the use of a "double-T" installation - unauthorized by the manufacturer - that may limit the available heating power;
- an overestimation of the safety offered by the pilot carrying out the actions specified in the Flight Manuals for an emergency landing, which must by nature be carried out under stress;
- techniques and means of oversight of operators by the authority which are mainly concerned with regulatory compliance, poorly adapted to detecting risky practices.
The BEA issued recommendations to:
- study the development of emergency "fuel shut-off" devices on board balloons;
- homogenize the operational documents regarding the practice of turning off the pilot lights;
- clarify the safety objectives for commercial balloon flights;
- reinforce feedback from operators.