You’re riding in a hot air balloon, and you see another group doing the same across the sky. Your balloon and the other one never bumps into each other, but what if you did? Do hot air balloons ever crash into one another?
Hot air balloons can crash into each other, but it doesn’t happen often thanks to the skills and training of hot air balloon pilots. If two balloons did get close to each other, in many cases, they simply bounce off one another without incident for either hot air balloon.
In this article, we’ll talk about what happens in a hot air balloon crash and how likely such an event is to happen. Make sure you keep reading!
How Do Hot Air Balloons Avoid Collisions?
Have you ever seen photos or videos online of a hot air balloon event and your breath was taken away by the beautiful balloon colors decorating the sky? Maybe you even participated in one of these events.
Inevitably, you’ll become curious about the logistics of it all. How can so many hot air balloons coexist at once without hitting each other?
That’s all due to the training and abilities that hot air balloon pilots possess. We haven’t talked about this in a while, so now seems like a good time to recap just how you become a hot air balloon pilot.
The process requires pilots–who must be at least 18 years old–to spend hours in flight training.
If you want to be a private hot air balloon pilot, then you’ll engage in flight training for at least 10 hours. As part of their training, pilots will have one solo flight, two flights that last an hour each (or longer), one flight that’s 2,000 feet high, and six supervised flights with an instructor.
To become a commercial hot air balloon pilot, such as those who work at the company you booked your hot air balloon ride with, you must first be a private pilot. On top of all those education and experience requirements, you must then complete further training.
You’ll be required to take one solo flight, two flights as a pilot in command, two flights that are 60 minutes each or longer, one flight where you ascend 3,000 feet, and 10 flights with an instructor.
Hot air balloon pilots are experienced folks. They’re innately skilled at commandeering a balloon, even if they can’t steer it in the traditional sense. The pilots know that raising or lowering the balloon’s height can control its trajectory. They’re also good at tracking the direction of the wind and using that to guide them.
Can Hot Air Balloons Hit Each Other?
Of course, that doesn’t mean that hot air balloon collisions are impossible.
The hot air balloon pilot could be sharing the skies with a newer pilot and that pilot makes an error. Changing wind directions can make the balloon harder to control. In other cases still, inclement weather creates an unpredictable day ahead.
We’ll talk about this later, but hot air balloon accidents do happen, sometimes even deadly ones. It’s unfortunate but not very common.
What Happens When Two Hot Air Balloons Collide?
Let’s say that two hot air balloons did meet. After all, as we’ve already established, it’s not at all an impossible scenario.
What would happen?
Well, what force they collide with makes a big difference, so let’s talk about what a light collision would be like versus a more serious one.
At the very least, the balloons will give each other a little love tap, so to speak. In other words, the envelopes (which are the balloon parts of a hot air balloon), would bump into one another.
Why this happens varies. As mentioned, hot air balloon pilots don’t exactly steer their balloons, but rather, use the wind to guide them horizontally. They can raise or lower the balloon, then float it on the wind. Thus, if another balloon gets too close to its path, these small collisions might happen.
What is the consequence of that? Not too much, really. The direction the balloon pilots were going might be set slightly off-course, but not by a huge degree. It’s not like the envelopes are going to cause the two hot air balloons to bounce off one another. They’ll just sort of brush by each other, lightly colliding.
If you were riding in a hot air balloon during this occurrence, you’d see the other balloon getting closer, but you might not even notice the impact. It’s not like you’d be jolted in your seat.
Now let’s say the balloons hit each other with more force. This can happen due to the reasons we outlined earlier, such as inclement weather or inexperience.
Once the two balloons bump into each other with more force, one of the balloon envelopes can lose some air or both can begin deflating from the impact. This likely wouldn’t be enough to cause the hot air balloon to crash, although you never can say never.
However, hot air balloons can usually come to a soft landing rather than crash out of the sky, which is something we’ve talked about on the blog. To refresh your memory, the hot air balloon pilot operates at least two propane burners to allow the balloon to rise. The propane will evaporate and become a gas as it heats up.
The heated gas fills the envelope, and that’s how you achieve flight. So if the balloon began to come down after a more serious hit with another hot air balloon and the pilot was uninjured and their equipment still worked, they could intermittently turn on the burners for a more controlled landing.
That doesn’t mean harder collisions always end so pleasantly. There are several significant risks when balloons bump into each other with force.
One is that they can get entangled with each other. It would be too hard for either balloon pilot to control their respective hot air balloons at that point, which would almost certainly lead to them both crashing. And yes, this time, the word “crashing” is more apt. There’s no slow, controlled comedown when two hot air balloons are ensnared.
The second risk is that the collision can tear the envelope of either hot air balloon. A ripped envelope cannot maintain altitude. If the tear is relatively minor, then the hot air balloon pilot can land the balloon as described in the paragraphs above. For larger rips though, the rate of altitude loss might be too much to overcome. Crashing would likely occur.
The third and biggest risk is that either balloon could catch on fire due to their proximity to one another and the propane burners. If the balloon and/or basket ignites, then that’s a very serious and likely deadly scenario.
What Are the Odds of Being in a Hot Air Balloon Accident?
The information in this article has been quite sobering, to say the least. You’re concerned that a worst-case scenario could occur to you as well.
As we’ve talked about in this post, from 2000 to 2016, the United States had 21 fatal hot air ballooning incidents.
That data was likely tabulated before an incident that happened on July 30th, 2016, in Lockhart, Texas. The balloon departed early on a Saturday morning with 15 passengers and the hot air balloon pilot. Not long into the flight, the balloon collided with power lines and crashed. Everyone on the balloon died.
Even if you did accommodate for the 15 additional deaths, then in 16 years, that’s only 36 hot air ballooning deaths in the US. Safety laws are being passed all the time, hot air balloons continue to get upgraded with modern touches so they’re safer, and balloon pilots become more knowledgeable before getting hired for the job.
Hot air ballooning is plenty safe. As we talked about in our post on ballooning safety, riding in a hot air balloon has fewer rates of death compared to traveling by airplane, helicopter, and parachute.
Hot air balloons can crash into each other, but fortunately, this isn’t a common occurrence. Most of these collisions cause nothing more than the two balloon envelopes to bump into each other, but more serious incidents can happen as well.
Even still, hot air ballooning is one of the safest ways to see the skies!