Saturday 7 January 2012

Number one

Oh dear, shocking news today: the first disaster of the new year, only one week in. In the Wairarapa, a hot-air balloon hit power lines, caught fire and crashed, killing the pilot and the five couples who were his passengers. Apparently two of them leapt from the burning basket 100m up in the air - a hideous reminder of 9/11. It's our worst air accident since Erebus in 1979.

Having flown in a balloon three times now, in England and Australia, I can imagine only too well how it went: the nervous anticipation of the passengers getting up before dawn, driving out to the launch spot with the trailer behind the van, the pilot making jokes as he got the balloon unpacked, laid out on the ground and held open by helpers. Then he starts the fan to fill the balloon and open it up, and afterwards the burners roar away to heat the air so that the balloon slowly stands.

It's an exciting moment, clambering into the wicker basket (always wicker, for lightness and strength) and holding tight, looking up at the orange glow from the burners brightening the colours of the nylon, feeling the heat - but always an anticlimax when the helpers let go of the ropes, because the balloon rises so smoothly and swiftly, there's no drama at all. It's a bit like that camera trick, where the background retreats behind the subject: the ground seems to pull away, rather than vice versa. And then, you realise you're way up in the air, and it's marvellous. It's cold, because it's still early, the sun's just risen while you were busy watching the balloon got ready, but there's warmth from the burners above; and when they're not being used, it's so beautifully quiet you can hear the dogs barking below on the ground; and there's no wind, because you're moving with it. And the views are fantastic.

The flights always seem to end too soon, within an hour, and then the pilot's busy using the burners to go up and letting air out to decrease altitude, concentrating on using the different air currents at different levels to go in the best direction for landing, watching out for hazards like power lines and trees, roads and rivers, fences and buildings. That's the most dangerous time, and that's when the balloon this morning got into trouble: instead of gently settling back on the earth, it hit power lines that set fire to the basket, burning through the ropes so that the balloon was released and the basket fell to the ground. It must have been horrific. I'm so sorry for those poor people, and their families. (The two who jumped had been given the flight voucher for Christmas by their children, who were on the ground watching; and the pilot's wedding invitations were posted yesterday. So sad.)


the queen said...

Of course I immediately checked your blog to see where you were and if there's been a balloon adventure scheduled.

I did not check your blog when I saw another earthquake hit Christchurch yesterday.

TravelSkite said...

Yes, you're right: another quake in Christchurch isn't news any more, sadly, unless it's above 5. Even then, it's not the first item on the news.


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