Monday, September 15, 2008

One rough ride in a hot air balloon

The hot air balloon sits on the ground after landing in Sandown Friday morning.

I always thought it'd be fun to take a ride in a hot air balloon someday...then I had to cover a story on a balloon that had an unexpected "hard landing" last weekend and left a passenger with some pretty serious injuries. I still think it could be a great experience, but it's good to know the risks.

By Jason Schreiber

Union Leader Correspondent

SANDOWN - Ralph Avery was given a hot air balloon ride for his Father’s Day gift, but his ride yesterday didn’t end quite the way he expected after he was injured when the balloon landed hard in a resident’s backyard.

Avery, 63, of East Bridgewater, Mass., was one of seven people riding in the yellow smiley face balloon from Derry-based High 5 Ballooning when it landed in an open area behind a home at 105 Main St.

Fire officials said Avery suffered ankle injuries when the balloon landed harder than expected. Avery was transported to Parkland Medical Center in Derry for treatment.

Fire Chief Bill Tapley said he didn’t know the extent of Avery’s injuries. “He was in good spirits. I think he just twisted his ankles,” he said. Avery could not be reached comment.

Tony Sica, the owner of the balloon company who was piloting the balloon, said the winds picked up unexpectedly, causing the landing to be harder than usual.

“Most landings are soft, but when the winds pick in a balloon, you’re going to have a hard landing,” Sica said.

As he prepared for landing, Sica said he tried to slow the balloon by lowering it into the treetops.

The balloon left yesterday morning from Salem. A hot air balloon pilot for 13 years, Sica said he checked the weather conditions before taking off and everything looked good.

“There was no indication that there would be adverse wind conditions,” he said.

Sica warned the passengers to brace for a hard landing when he realized that the wind would make it tough. “When the winds pick up you draw on your experiences as a pilot to get the passengers down as safely as you can,” he said.

Main Street neighbor Jean Martin was inside his house getting ready to work in his garage when the balloon landed. When the balloon finally came to a stop, Martin went over to check on the passengers. He said he saw a man, later identified as Avery, having trouble standing up. “I felt bad for him,” he said of Avery, “but it’s just one of those things.”

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