BURLINGTON, Wis. — The company involved in the hot air balloon crash in Burlington says they are fully cooperating with the investigation.
Lake Geneva Balloon Company said in a statement to TMJ4 that the balloon that crashed in Burlington was with their company, but was being operated by a “subcontractor pilot.”
Flying people in a balloon does not just take skill, it requires a commercial license. Ken Walter runs Kay’s Winddancer II in Waukesha and has been a commercial hot air balloon pilot for a quarter of a century. He says it is a small profession.
“There are probably 40-50 hot air balloon pilots in the state of Wisconsin. Only a couple of us do it commercially,” said Walter.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hot air balloon crashes, hits train in Burlington; 3 injured, identified
It was not a surprise to Walter or the Balloon Federation of America that the Lake Geneva Balloon Company asked a subcontractor to come in and take some of the passengers.
Mark West sits on the board of directors for the Balloon Federation of America that the Lake Geneva Balloon Company.
“People that may subcontract to fly for another company, they have to have the same requirements. They have to be a certified pilot. They have to have their biannual flight reviews. They have to have insurance, the whole thing,” said West.
The balloon industry’s licensing has faced scrutiny in recent years, specifically after a 2016 balloon crash in Texas that killed 15 people. Investigators say the pilot that crashed was impaired on prescription drugs. The Commercial Balloon Pilot Safety Act was signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018. It requires medical examines for all commercial balloon pilots. More recently, in June of 2021, five people died after a hot air balloon pilot crashed in New Mexico. Investigators there found the pilot had a mix of drugs in his system.
“The new regulation is designed to require balloon pilots to have a second class medical. Second class medicals have to be renewed every year and basically it's just for the most part a health check that the FAA is doing,” said West.
However, it has been 1,336 days since that law was signed and the FAA still has not enacted it. Representative Lloyd Doggett from Texas, who authored the law, has been raising concerns as to why it is not implemented.
“It is outrageous that the FAA has failed to act despite repeated requests from me and from the National Transportation Safety Board. The law I authored was explicit and required no FAA rule to implement it. But the FAA has used rule-making as an excuse to delay enforcement of this federal safety law as long as possible. I don’t yet know the facts of the Burlington crash or pilot, but I do know that more people will die if the FAA continues to dither,” said Doggett in a statement.
Overall, the Balloon Federation of America say crashes are extremely rare. A CNN report found 37 hot air balloon deaths from 2000-2016 compared to 728 people who died in plane crashes at that same time.
“We are a very safe sport, a very safe industry. We do a lot training. We train our pilots, we train our crew so they can handle any emergency situation that might come up,” said Walter.
The Balloon Federation of American believes the new regulations requiring medical exams will be enacted later this year. However, they do not have an exact date on when that will happen.
The Lake Geneva Balloon Company sent TMJ4 News this statement Thursday:
"The facts surrounding last night's balloon accident in Burlington, WI are still emerging. Lake Geneva Balloons is fully committed to safe flying and is fully cooperating with all ongoing investigations. Our hearts go out to all those involved in and touched by this event."
The three patients transported to the hospital during Wednesday evening's crash in Burlington have all been released and are recovering. The passenger list for the flight included:
- Pilot, 62-year-old Jimmy Winder of Bristol
- Passenger, 37-year-old Nikolay Veltchez of Barrington, Illinois
- Passenger, 36-year-old Elena Petrova of Arlington Heights, Illinois
According to the City of Burlington Police Department, the pilot said while attempting to land the balloon, the gondola touched down and the balloon became entangled with a train. The pilot was the owner of the hot air balloon and affiliated with the Lake Geneva Balloon Company.
Police are continuing to work with the NAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). NTBS is the lead investigating agency.
The investigation remains ongoing.