Multiple people were taken to hospitals with injuries after three hot air balloons crash-landed Aug. 3 near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
The three sightseeing hot air balloons, all owned and operated by Wyoming Balloon Company, were carrying a total of 38 passengers for s scenic flight over Jackson Hole when they crashed near the foothills of the Teton Village Resort Community, about 12 miles northwest of Jackson, shortly after 8 a.m.
Reports say that the crashes injured between 16 and 20 people, with one person airlifted to a level 1 trauma center in Idaho Falls.
The National Transportation Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are investigating the crashes but have not determined what caused the three balloons to slam into the ground repeatedly, dragging their baskets along for hundreds of feet.
Statements made by Wyoming Balloon Company president Andrew Breffeilh indicated that weather may have played a role in the hot air balloon crashes. He said that the weather forecast on Aug. 3 called for clear conditions and light winds. But in the air, the balloons experienced wind gusts that were “outside the forecast,” he told the New York Times. He told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that a downdraft sent the balloons tearing across a field on the Snake River Ranch.
Those sudden bursts of strong wind prompted the balloon pilots to make “high-wind landings,” Mr. Breffeilh explained. He noted that while “high-wind landings happen every day,” Monday’s landings were more severe because of the gusts.
The gusty winds were so fierce that “it took us 300 feet to stop after I opened up the valve” in the balloon, he told the New York Times. “That’s a pretty long drag.”
Some of the passengers described being slammed into the ground repeatedly in a heavy metal basket as the hot air balloons crashed and lifted again. Broken bones and concussions were among the injuries some of the passengers described.
Mr. Breffeilh told the New York Times that his company hasn’t recorded a crash since it started operating more than three decades ago. He said the most important thing to do was get the balloons down “as quickly and safely as possible.”
He also said the company would probably let the dust settle a bit before it sent its hot air balloons up again. He said a “stand-down” would give the company some time to learn from what happened and to cooperate with the federal investigations.
Hot air balloon regulations were strengthened in 2018, two years after the deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history killed 15 passengers and the pilot in Lockhart, Texas. Prompted by the investigation into that crash that revealed the pilot had a history of substance abuse, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a funding bill for the FAA to require commercial hot-air balloon pilots to undergo medical exams. Donald Trump signed that measure into law in October that year.
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes. He currently represents families of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 victims involving the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.