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Friday, April 13, 2012

Basket case grounds planes as rogue hot air balloon drifts over Gatwick Airport

Friday 13th lived up to its chilling reputation today for two separate groups of hot air balloonists - after their crafts blew off course. 
One stray balloon narrowly avoided tragedy after blowing into power lines in North Yorkshire, while another caused chaos at Gatwick Airport by straying into the path of departing flights. 
Amazingly nobody was hurt - but they will prompt some people to question if superstitions about the unluckiest day of the year are true after all.

Nine passengers and a pilot were onboard the balloon that crashed into cables carrying 66,000 volts of electricity as it attempted to land near Selby, North Yorkshire at 8.15am. 
The power automatically shut down after the collision and the people in the basket, which crashed to the ground just feet from a large pond, were able to scramble to safety.
Part of the blue and yellow balloon was hanging over the power line and in the water as emergency teams arrived at the crash site.
The Air Accident Investigation Branch has launched an investigation have interviewed the pilot, John Russell.

Sky News Olympic correspondent Orla Chennaoui, who was on a grounded easyJet flight, tweeted: “Sat on a plane for the last hour because of fog. Now told a hot air balloon is overhead and Gatwick’s shut. Is this Fri 13th or April Fool?”

Air traffic controllers spotted the craft on radar at 8.50am over Horsham, on the border of Gatwick airspace, as heavy fog meant it could not be seen with the naked eye.

It drifted out of danger 24 minutes later and pilots were given the all-clear.

Robin Shapland, 62, of the British School of Ballooning which flies in the area, said the problem was most likely caused by a private individual rather than a company.

He added: “It is difficult to understand how this person got into the airspace because this morning there was a north-easterly wind which would take you away from Gatwick, so he has obviously had some sort of emergency.”

Corporate balloonists are required to carry a radio and alert airports if they think they are getting too close to restricted airspace, while individuals must have up-to-date Ordnance Survey maps and air charts.

Mr Shapland added: “This person will have known exactly where he was and that he shouldn’t have been there.” The Civil Aviation Authority said instances of balloons in restricted airspace were “rare”.

A spokesman said: “As balloons are unpowered and have no other way of moving other than the wind, it can be a case of waiting.”

A Gatwick official said: “For safety reasons we temporarily suspended departing flights after reports of a hot air balloon in our airspace.” Flights resumed at 9.14am.

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