A Balloon Safaris flight had a hard landing that injured four people in January (file).A hot air balloon operator didn’t call triple zero after one of its balloons crashed in the NSW Hunter Valley, injuring 16 people, and it was packed up before authorities could inspect the scene.
The 16 people were treated at Cessnock Hospital for non-life threatening injuries, including suspected broken bones and potential spinal injuries, following the Good Friday crash at Pokolbin, authorities say.
NSW Police have questioned why the operator – Balloon Safaris – didn’t call emergency services and why it quickly packed up the balloon after it struck trees and crash-landed on McDonalds Road about 8.30am.
“I think it would be common sense to make that call if you have injured people on the ground,” Inspector Robert Post told reporters in the Hunter, adding the company was co-operating.
Asked if it should have been left where it was after it crashed, Insp Post said: “Some would argue yes.”
Two of the 16 injured passengers have been transferred to John Hunter Hospital for specialised care and remain in a stable condition. A further 12 have since been discharged from Cessnock Hospital, a hospital spokesman told AAP.
The balloon had 24 passengers in the basket when it crashed.
Friday’s incident is the second involving Balloon Safaris in 2018. Another flight made a hard landing near Cessnock in January that injured four people.
The company blamed a quicker-than-expected shift in wind speed for that incident.
Balloon Safaris said its balloon took off from Pokolbin in calm conditions but after 30 minutes “visibility decreased which influenced the pilot’s decision to land at the first available landing spot”.
On approach the balloon hit trees before landing “firmly”, the company said, adding there were “some injuries”.
“The pilot deemed there was no need for emergency services to be called.
“As a precautionary measure, three passengers were transported to Cessnock Hospital after the pilot had enquired into each passenger’s welfare.”
A spokesman for a competing company in the Hunter Valley, Beyond Ballooning, told AAP it cancelled its flight on Friday morning due to “unsuitable flying conditions”.
The Bureau of Meteorology says there was fog and light winds in the Hunter at the time.
“It (the fog) would be quite widespread and quite deep … generally quite low visibility,” meteorologist Jordan Notara told AAP.
Local resident Nicole, who lives on McDonalds Road, told AAP she spotted the balloon in a paddock attached to the Hope Estate Winery after it landed.
“I thought, geez, this looks suspicious, it was half up and was right near the trees,” she said.
Damian Crock from the Professional Ballooning Association of says any suggestion Balloon Safaris is a “rogue operator” is “ludicrous”.
“They’re a long-standing operator and the pilot has 26 years’ experience – that’s 3000-plus hours,” he told AAP.
“There is no requirement to call triple zero if the pilot in command of the aircraft deems there is no emergency situation. There’s no requirement to call the civil police.”
The n Transport Safety Bureau has been notified of the incident and police are investigating.