This is the time of year that hot air balloon festival season kicks into drive, including the Plano Balloon Festival September 22-25, 2022 Enthusiasts in Texas and across the country will travel to see these gorgeous balloons in flight, and to maybe take a ride into the sunset.
We’re big fans of hot air balloons, but we also know that things can go awry quickly – and when you’re 3,000 feet in the air, an error or act of negligence can easily lead to a fatal accident. If you attend one of Texas’ festivals, we want you to be as prepared as possible.
Are hot air balloons safe?
Generally speaking, yes. Since 2001, there have only been three fatal incidents involving hot air balloons in the Unites States, resulting in 20 deaths and one injury. Most of the fatalities occurred during a tragic incident in Lockhart, Texas, when the balloon struck the power lines and caught fire; all 16 passengers died. Slack Davis Sanger handled this case.
Part of this is because you must obtain a pilot’s license to operate a hot air balloon. As with other forms of aircraft, you can get a private license or a commercial one.
What causes hot air balloon accidents?
Just like with other aviation accidents, hot air balloons are affected by the weather, and it this issue that causes the most concern. The balloon itself (called an “envelope”) is typically made of cotton, nylon, polyester, and/or polyethylene, depending on what the balloon’s use. The basket, or gondola, is made of wicker (or plastic, in newer models). While these are all sturdy materials, they are also lightweight ones, and hot air balloons lack the protective frames of other types of aircraft. If something goes wrong, there is little anyone can do to protect themselves.
Furthermore, the lack of engine and steering means the pilot is dependent on wind speed and direction to maneuver the balloon. Strong winds or precipitation can affect a pilot’s ability to land the balloon. Aside from high winds, other causes of hot air balloon accidents can include:
- Faulty or defective fuel tanks
- Operator negligence
- Ground handling negligence
- Faulty or damaged envelopes
- Contact with objects (like power lines or birds)
How to stay safe during a Texas hot air balloon festival
Hot air balloon rides can be exhilarating or relaxing, but most of all, they’re fun! We want everyone to enjoy this year’s festivals as much as possible, so we’ve compiled a list of tips to help you do just that.
Hot air balloon safety
Whether you’re a spectator or there for a ride, there are some things you should – and should not – do to ensure your safety.
DO follow all safety instructions given by the pilot and ground crew, like keeping your body parts inside the balloon during take-off.
DON’T get too near the balloons, especially if you’re a spectator. Keep a safe distance so the crew can do its work.
DO wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You’ll be standing the whole time, and space is limited. Bring a lightweight jacket with you, even if the day is warm.
DON’T book a ride if you have neck or back problems. The landing can be bumpy, and it can exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
DO take a camera – but DON’T forget to enjoy the ride!
At any festival – especially outdoor events under a hot Texas sun – you should take steps to stay safe:
- Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. Sugary and alcoholic drinks can dehydrate you more. If you plan to have a few drinks, make sure you get a designated driver.
- Stay cool. Sunburn is bad; heatstroke can be worse. Make sure to rest in the shade when you can, and to wear plenty of sunscreen.
- Stay aware. Festivals are crowded places. Be aware of your surroundings and try to avoid going places alone. Never leave a drink unattended and keep your wallet where you can feel it.
- Stay powered up. Make sure your phone is fully charged before entering the festival. In the event of an emergency, you may need to call 9-1-1, and you want a way to stay in touch with your friends and family.
The aviation accident attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger want you to have a blast during this year’s hot air balloon festivals, and during chartered trips. If you or a loved one does sustain an injury, we are here to help. To schedule a free consultation at one of our offices in Fort Worth, Austin, or Dallas, call 800-455-8686, or complete our contact form.
The firm handles cases involving catastrophic personal injuries and deaths. Our work spans three decades of handling airplane and helicopter crashes, truck and car accidents, oilfield and construction accidents, and other devastating accidents. We try lawsuits throughout the country in both federal and state courts and have recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for our clients. To date, we have handled or tried cases in 47 states, read more about our attorneys and firm.