Hot air balloon scare prompts industry safety questions

No one was injured when a hot air balloon made an unexpected landing in Langley, B.C., Monday night, but transportation safety officials say the industry needs better regulation.

The Langley City Fire-Rescue Service said that none of the eight people on board were injured when the balloon touched down in Douglas Park, a common balloon landing spot near the city's centre.

A fire-rescue official said the balloon's operator had to make a "forced landing" because it was getting too dark to stay aloft.

At least one witness was concerned that the craft was descending too quickly, and called 911.

One onlooker said it looked as though the balloon came close to hydro wires.

Barry McGonigle, president of Sundance Balloons, said the pilot of the balloon is very experienced — and that no one was in any danger.

"There was no incident. There was no danger. There were no injuries. There were no problems," McGonigle said.

"It wasn't an emergency, everything was normal."

While Canada's Transportation Safety Board is not investigating the landing, spokesperson Peter Hildebrand said the TSB does have general concerns about the oversight of and regulations around the hot air balloon industry.

"You don't have inspections by TSB officials, or regular visits, or safety assessments, or evaluations as to how things are going," Hildebrand said.

Past tragedy

Five years ago in Surrey, two people were killed and 11 injured in a horrific hot air balloon accident.

The balloon burst into flames on takeoff and eventually plummeted into a mobile home park.

The Langley-based company that ran the balloon, Fantasy Balloon Charters, is no longer operating.

Two weeks before that accident, three people were severely injured in a fiery hot air balloon landing near Winnipeg.

In the aftermath of those two accidents, the Transportation Safety Board issued two recommendations: It called for passenger-carrying commercial balloons to provide the same level of safety as other commercial aircraft, and it called for the balloons to have an emergency fuel shutoff system.

Neither of those recommendations has been adopted into official policy.

"There's no resolution, there's no change, so were concerned by this," Hildebrand said.

"There hasn't been the degree of change of the speed of change that we think is appropriate."

The TSB met with Transport Canada in March and said at that time their recommendations were still being reviewed.

A representative of Transport Canada was not available to comment Tuesday.

With files from the CBC's Maggie Zelaya