A series of recent hot air balloon mishaps – one which left three people dead in Virginia – has raised questions about the activity’s safety, especially as the Temecula Valley Balloon and Wine Festival takes to the skies at the end of the month.
In April, two hot air balloons made accidental landings in the North County.
The first happened in Rancho Peñasquitos when seven passengers and a pilot were blown off course and were forced to land in the middle of a neighborhood.
In the second incident in Rancho Bernardo, a six-year-old boy filmed a balloon landing in front of traffic on Bernardo Center Drive. Again, that balloon had been blown off course.
“When balloons land in unusual places, they tend to make the news because people are used to us landing in the same fields night after night after night,” said Phil Brandt, a member of the San Diego County Balloon Association. He was the pilot during the Rancho Bernardo unexpected landing.
But a sky-high ride turned deadly this week in Virginia.
The hot air balloon struck a live power line and caught fire, ending in an explosion that separated the balloon from the gondola. Three bodies have been recovered in the debris.
“[In] ballooning, we have to be very cognizant of power lines,” said Brandt. “However, here in San Diego County, most of our developments are newer. The areas that we fly generally don’t have power lines above the ground. They’re generally below ground.”
He said having a Virginia-like incident would be very unlikely in San Diego.
Safety is key, according to Brandt, and as an example, no balloons took to flight Saturday evening due to inclement weather.