Unexpected end to hot air balloon ride
Published: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 at 11:21 a.m.
A massive hot air balloon with the burners blazing and 10 people on board must have come as a kind of shock Friday to residents of a hillside neighborhood in Wikiup.
The pilots and their passengers found it equally surprising to be greeted on the ground by firefighters, PG&E personnel and Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies responding to reports of a balloon crash and fire with passengers trapped inside.
There was no such thing.
Wine Country Balloons owner and pilot Scott van der Horst said he and his co-pilot were merely taking advantage of a patch of green grass amid the homes and tall trees along Wikiup Bridge Way that served as a landing pad when the winds started to blow the aircraft in the wrong direction.
His eight passengers were asked to stay in the gondola to provide weight as the balloon was set down. The crew got help from others at the scene to lay the deflated balloon along the ground and get it packed up again.
“It was routine,” Van der Horst said before driving away what appeared to be a van load of eight contented passengers, several of them chuckling over what they deemed a false alarm.
A hilltop resident who heard the burners and came out to his deck as the balloon whisked by at eye level said it looked to him like a fairly alarming situation, given the number and height of the trees on his and others’ properties.
“It didn’t look normal to me — any part of it,” said the man, who refused to give his name.
Van der Horst said his ability to land in a relatively tight spot illustrated the level of control he had on the aircraft.
“Ideally we would rather land in the largest space possible, but since the changing winds dictate our direction, we must always adapt,” he said in an email.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Vance Eaton said the full-blown response was totally appropriate to how the 10 a.m. incident was first reported. And he said the balloon’s proximity to a residence and large PG&E transmission line made it important for emergency crews to make sure all was OK.
He said the Federal Aviation Administration, contacted in the moments after the landing first was reported, would follow up with interviews just to make sure all was as it should be.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or email@example.com.
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