British Columbia, Canada -The pilot of a hot-air balloon had to make an emergency landing on Okanagan lake when his balloon was blown over toward the lake, by a sudden change in wind direction, despite attempts to catch the wind current toward land; however, the balloon also ran out of fuel, and he was forced to touch down in the lake. The incident occurred on 21st August, Sunday; all four passengers and the pilot were unharmed and brought ashore.
At 9 a.m. the fire department got a call about a hot air balloon flying 200 feet above the lake, said Platoon Captain, Steve Roshinsky. “We were monitoring it at the time, a little while later, the caller called back and said the basket definitely did go into the water. That’s when we dispatched our marine rescue boat.”
A witness described the crash landing in an e-mail to CBC news: “Then as it got nearer to our house, the balloon dropped and the basket landed in the lake.
The balloon stayed inflated and they were still lighting the fire intermittently. There were two boats near the balloon that seemed to be offering help. Suddenly, the balloon lifted up into the air again. They could hear the people on board screaming.
The balloon basket was swinging back and forth, and it would deflate slightly on one side as the basket would swing.” Other witnesses gave similar descriptions.
Early press reports indicated that passengers were pulled to safety; however, the balloon pilot remained on board. As the balloon rose again, two boats followed it closely.
Roshinsky said he had never seen or heard anything like a balloon landing in the water. “So it’s a first that we have responded to in Kelowna,” he said.
North Westside Fire Chief Jason Satterthwaite said the pilot of the hot air balloon jumped into the water sometime later and was rescued before his rescue team had reached.
Officials were concerned about the submerged balloon being a potential hazard for boaters, but dragging the waterlogged balloon to the shore was a challenge to North Westside and Kelowna Fire rescue teams.
“The balloon was too heavy and started to sink Kelowna’s boat. North Westside’s Marine 103 was able to recover the balloon’s basket and bring it to shore,” said Satterthwaite.
After some unsuccessful attempts to retrieve the envelope, they left it near Fintry and contacted a salvage company who brought home all parts of the aircraft safely, later in the afternoon.
Roshinsky said Kelowna RCMP had been informed of the incident but so far police had not said about any investigation into the crash.
Okanagan Ballooning issued a press release after the incident. Part of it is presented here:
“On August 21, John Klempner, of Okanagan Ballooning, launched a hot air balloon with 4 passengers on board. Approximately, 40 minutes into the flight, he radioed the chase crew to inform them he was heading out over Okanagan Lake. As per procedure, we commandeered boats and headed out on the water to continue the chase.
We followed closely behind and attempted to tow him to shore, however the wind was picking up so we decided instead to off load the passengers onto the boat and take them to shore. The passengers were unharmed and safely transported to shore.
The second boat continued on with the balloon. Our crew called emergency personnel to inform them the balloon was attempting to make it off the lake but that he might have to land the balloon before he reached shore, assistance was dispatched.
Unfortunately, there was not enough fuel on board for it to reach the shore. As a result, John gently lowered the balloon into the water. Then, with boat support and with assistance from the Kelowna Fire Dept. and Vernon Search and Rescue, the basket and John were loaded onto the deck of the boat and was taken to shore, both were unharmed.”
The release also thanked everyone for their generosity, kindness, and support and said that their team has decided to change the name of the balloon from Aurora to Ariel.