Hot air balloons have close encounters in Langley
Two hot air balloons that made unscheduled landings after flying too low over residential areas have left many Langley residents jittery.
Both were Sundance Balloons navigated by the same pilot.
In the first incident, which occurred on July 29, the pilot was aiming for Langley Regional Airport when he realized that he could not land there safely. He set down in Douglas Park which is surrounded on three sides by apartment buildings.
On Aug. 6, the pilot landed in a field just east of Newlands Golf and Country Club, narrowly missing power lines and a utility pole.
There were no injuries in either case, but airport manager George Miller fielded a number of calls from residents who had been alarmed at the low altitude of the balloons as they made their unscheduled landings.
Miller is responsible for airport operations at Langley.
Miller said that when he learned of residents' complaints that the pilot was drifting too low over Brookswood on Aug. 6, he wanted to know why, and called the pilot for a meeting.
After they met, Miller allowed the pilot to go ahead with a flight on Aug. 7.
The pilot assured him that he would take every measure not to fly below 500 feet over Langley City and would plan on bypassing the City to every extent possible, Miller said.
Balloons, which cruise at an altitude of between 700 and 1,000 feet, must avoid conventional air traffic that uses the airport.
There was no negligence by the pilot in either the July 29 or Aug. 6 incident, Miller said, adding that the pilot "took measures to safely land the balloons."
He said that residents can become unduly alarmed because they misjudge the distance between the ground and the balloon, or the balloon and static structures such as buildings, trees and power poles.
It is five years since a hot air balloon tragedy in south Surrey killed a Langley woman, Shannon Knackstedt, 49, and her 21-year-old daughter, Jemma.
They were among 12 passengers about to take off from a field near Hazelmere trailer park on 8 Avenue on a Fantasy Balloon ride when fire broke out near the propane tanks. The fire burned through the tether that fastened the basket to the ground, spontaneously lifting the basket that was engulfed in flames.
Some of the passengers scrambled out of the basket, others jumped from the airborne basket. The pilot and 10 passengers escaped, some suffering severe burns and broken bones.
Fantasy no longer operates.