One of the most frightening things in any aircraft is inflight fire. Generally, immediate action for that is “Get on the ground — now!” But given the limited maneuverablity of a hot air balloon, the commercial pilot of a sightseeing balloon in Texas may not have had time to act. Video and stills show the balloon trailing smoke from the basket, and then, on fire on the ground. The balloon envelope did not burn, but the basket did — and the 16 souls on board died.  Local TV:

A hot air balloon carrying at least 16 people caught on fire and crashed in Central Texas on Saturday, federal officials said.

There doesn’t appear to be any survivors, according to the local sheriff.

“The balloon was occupied and it does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash,” Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law said in a statement. “Investigators are determining the number and the identities of victims at this time.”

Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a brief news conference Saturday that there are a “number of fatalities” but would not provide an exact number. He said there is “significant loss of life.”

It was a hard death for the 16 on board. They have faced the World War I aviator’s dilemma: jump, or burn, with certain death awaiting regardless of the choice made.

Among the dead are Matt and Sunday Rowen:

Matt sent this image to his volleyball-playing friends explaining why he was late to practice, from the balloon:

Shortly thereafter, the problem -whatever it was — broke out. In minutes the Rowens, their fellow passengers, and the pilot, whose friends and commercial competitors considered highly safety conscious, were all dead.

You might want to tell someone you love him or her today. You never know.

This entry was posted in When Guns Are Outlawed… on by Hognose.

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

21 thoughts on “When Guns are Outlawed, Only Outlaws will have Balloons

Mr. 308

“Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board”

Thank the lord that the NTSB got involved here, otherwise we may never have known what caused this fire after they crashed into the power lines. Would have been a complete and total mystery.

Now you can safely get back into your hot air balloons that you use as modes of transport, as you go about your business moving hither and yon, back and forth, to and from wherever you may go.

… Well shouldn’t be flippant about what is a real tragedy I guess.

Two things I have never wanted to do; up in a hot air balloon; down under the water in a submarine. Not that there’s anything wrong with it of course… just not my thing.

John M.

I recognize your sarcasm, but the NTSB does yeoman’s work in getting at the root causes of air crashes. They do a fine job of digging past the superficial and getting at what really could have been done differently to make the crash not happen, and then feeding that back into pilot training, pilot procedures, aircraft maintenance and aircraft construction, air traffic control procedure, etc. etc. etc. The NTSB has been a key link in making our air transport system the safest transportation system (by passenger/mile) ever devised by man.

In particular, I salute the NTSB’s unwillingness to stop at “pilot error” as a cause of crashes. While “pilot error” causes numerous crashes, the NTSB will dig into human factors engineering to ask whether better design would have made the pilot less likely to commit a fatal error.

The NTSB’s report on John Denver’s crash is illustrative:

That’s one that easily could have been chalked up to, “Well, John Denver was a dope, or anyway acted like one that day!” Which is true so far as it goes, but unhelpful to other pilots who might have dopey moments in the pilot’s seat.

Some additional attention to accidents and human factors engineering could make some positive changes in firearm design and operation, IMHO. In particular, the popularity of “pull the trigger” as a step in the field-stripping procedure of many popular semi-auto pistols should’ve been phased out aeons ago. Or maybe never phased in. “People that stupid shouldn’t own pistols” is neither helpful nor preventative, given that a) many stupid people will own pistols in a free society, and b) even the brightest among us are going to have stupid moments caused by fatigue, inattention, distraction or other factors.

-John M.

Mr. 308

I don’t doubt any of those things, nor would I say that people working for government agencies are incapable of doing sometimes useful and good things.

That said, I also think there could be a non-government based solution to such things, and it might even be more effective at a lower total cost. But I digress.

I am just observing that hot air balloons are not transportation devices. Yes I do get that technically they are aircraft…

Related, we had a guy killed near here a few weeks back – he was a member of the ground crew holding on to one of the lines when the balloon took off and carried him 100 feet up (other crew members let go of their lines), he fell and was killed.

Hognose Post author

About ten years ago I looked into airship deaths — very very rare, one of ’em was just that sort of thing, ground crewman didn’t let go when he had the chance to survive, let go when he couldn’t hold on any more.


FWIW, I’ve seen several articles saying it contacted high voltage lines prior to crashing. It’s not clear whether a fire broke out prior to hitting the lines, but if not it’s not surprising a fire broke out afterwards, to put it mildly.


I went up in one out in the Phoenix area. It is freaking HOT in the basket. When the pilot applied the heat the top of my head got so uncomfortable I leaned out of the basket. It was at that moment I made the decision which way I would go if I had to chose. I’ll take the sudden stop over the inhale burning gases while your skin melts.


I’ve often thought about the World Trade Center “jumpers” on 9/11; about how bad it must have gotten to where jumping out of a tall building seems like a better alternative than staying where you are…

Me too. Every year on the 9/11 anniversary I think about this and make sure I watch that real time amateur footage documentary history channel shows.


I flew in a hot air balloon in 2001 not too long after 9/11. It was an incredible experience and I’d do it again however I was aware of the risk.


Man, my boss just bought a hot air balloon. But he’s flown a lot of other different things, paragliders and such, so I’m sure he’s aware of what the risks are.

Hognose Post author

Lighter than air is a really safe way to fly, compared to many others. But anything you do can kill you….


The old saying of “wires and fires”, two things that scare all pilots, applies here.


Hognose Post author

Yeah, Greg. And it’s emerging that this guy had a really lousy record with alcohol and driving (not that it matters, assuming he was sober at the time of the mishap. It’s just an indicator of a risk-taking profile). I’m reminded of the ballon accident down under where the pilot turned out to be higher than his balloon on weed….


***And it’s emerging that this guy had a really lousy record with alcohol and driving (not that it matters, assuming he was sober at the time of the mishap. It’s just an indicator of a risk-taking profile).***

One additional factor: aerostat pilots don’t have to keep a Class A medical on file, on which his DUIs would have shown up had he been a fixed-wing aircraft driver. But you’re spot-on about his record, it seems he had a couple of DUIs in Missouri, though the after-action naysayers continue to dig away. -more- here:

Hognose Post author

He had done some time, too, both for some kind of drug stuff and later, for parole violation (one of his DUIs was the violation)


Right now this accident really seems to be the most common pilot error cause in hot air balloons, contacting power lines. But the NTSB will determine that pretty easily with all the cameras that were on board.

Being an airplane guy, I had a lot of fun flying hot air balloons. I once traded airplane lessons for balloon lessons with a buddy and the pure adventure of not knowing where you were going to land was a very interesting. Also the Lunar Lander feel to landing, fulfilling some of my latent pyromanic tendencies, and knowing that waist high wicker and 5000 feet of air is the only thing between you and the ground combined to make it a lot more fun than I had thought it had been. My friend always made it clear what a huge threat powerlines were and he could never understand exactly why some guys cut their margins so thin (sounds similar to us powered guys pushing into IMC).

I had such a blast flying them I recommended that one of the line guys at the airport (who is actually now a USAF pilot) take a ride. So he went with another balloon pilot that was going to the same college as him and he had a very similar accident to this one, the balloon pilot got cocky and got too close to the lines. Luckily for them the combination of low altitude and muddy ground made it a survivable jump and my buddy “only” had some 2nd degree burns to his face and arm. I felt pretty bad for encouraging him to try it out!


John M,

I have been saying this for years!

It is a huge design flaw to require a trigger pull to field strip a pistol

I am amazed Glock was able to make people think it was normal to violate one of the most basic rules of gun safety in order to clean a gun

There are other striker fired guns that do not require a trigger pull to field strip

We in Anesthesia have been working on human factors engineering to make it more difficult to kill patients with an Anesthesia machine.

We have had a lot of trouble with providers seeing what they expect to see and not what is actually there

How many more ” I checked it and it was empty” stories do we need to hear?

Glock ( and others) should copy Smith and Wesson with release levers not trigger pulling to release the striker

The “pull the trigger to field strip” being accepted has boggled my mind for years

Hognose Post author

There are other firearms where you need to de-energize the striker before disassembly. But what really boggles my mind, is that knowing that this is the disassembly procedure and just how risky it is, guys still manage to shoot themselves/spouses/dogs/etc.

Most people take more care dressing for a high-altitude parachute jump than for a morning walk. But every few years some genius forgets his parachute. We humans are the human race’s worst enemy.

Hognose Post author

It was probably about 20 years ago that flying doctors (anesthesiologists and surgeons, mostly, the guys who hold the power to cure and to kill in their hands) began bringing aerospace safety concepts (objective third party investigations; non-punitive and inadmissible investigations; crew resource management; judgment training — called ADM to sell it to pilots) to medicine, and I think we need to bring those concepts into gun safety in a big way.


Plasma cutter. Phase to phase on that craft – no time to react once the current begins to flow. I’d think bailout right before touching would be better, but for what? Also astounded about 9/11 jumpers. In their case, my thinking is the sense of survival is so strong in the organism, that it will actually attempt to live a moment longer and therefore increased it’s chance of changing the outcome. In this case living for a short time period more, than succumbing to a fiery painful ending immediately.

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