February 7, 2016 3:20pm
The Cairns Post
A quick-thinking pilot averted possible tragedy when a hot-air balloon carrying 18 passengers clipped 22,000V powerlines.
The balloon, owned by Mareeba-based company Hot Air, had been trying to land on a vacant block on Burnes Rd west of the Tablelands town yesterday about 7.20am when the pilot failed to see the high-voltage lines.
The basket was left with scorch marks, but the pilot was able to power up the balloon and rise again, before landing it safely about 100m away.
Cairns police district duty officer Sen-Sgt Tony Law said it was lucky no one on board was hurt.
“It could have been tragic,” he said.
“It could have been a very serious incident.
“It’s just fortunate the pilot has acted so quickly and landed safely with no injuries.”
This is not the first time the ballooning company has been involved in this type of incident, with similar events in 2012, 2008 and 2004.
In 2012, Ergon Energy reported that powerline strikes by hot-air balloons were occurring on average once a year on the Tablelands.
There have been no fatalities or major injuries during this time, though.
This latest incident left almost 500 homes without power after the lines were bought down in a mango plantation.
An Ergon Energy spokesman said the impact of the balloon had caused the power lines to clash and arc, which left the burn marks on the side of the basket.
He said crews attended soon after the incident and power was restored to most homes quickly, with a further 30 back online later in the day.
Mareeba police Sgt Chris Harris said the balloon was undamaged apart from the burn marks.
The basket has been temporarily taken out of service.
“An inspector will inspect the balloon and basket,’’ he said. “It has been decommissioned until a full safety investigation is carried out.”
He said it was likely the passengers would have been unaware of what happened until after they landed.
The incident has been referred to both the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and Workplace Health and Safety.
An ATSB spokesman said they were aware of the matter.
“We are gathering further information,” he said.
“We will get a full report from the pilot, but that will come over the next 24 hours or so.”
Calls to Hot Air by The Cairns Post were not returned yesterday.