Balloon pilot loses lawsuit over fatal flight
A B.C. Supreme Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of a hot-air balloon that burst into flames over Hazelmere RV Park & Campground in 2007, killing two people.
The pilot of the balloon, Stephen Pennock, sued manufacturer Aerostar International, arguing the fire was the result of the "improper assembly" or "unsafe design" of the propane fuel line by Aerostar.
In response, Aerostar said there was no evidence of a defect in the hose, adding that in over 30 years of building balloons, it has never had what was described as a "pull-out failure."
In his written reasons for judgment released Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gregory Bowden said the evidence establishes the fire was caused when a fuel hose separated from a tank, "allowing liquid propane to spray uncontrollably around the gondola and ignite."
But it was not possible to say exactly why the hose came loose, the judge declared.
"… there is no direct evidence of the cause of the failure of the hose," Bowden said, and dismissed Pennock's claim.
The judgement includes Pennock's description of events the day he was preparing to lift off in a hot air balloon built by Aerostar.
Pennock, a pilot with over 2,000 hours of flying time in a hot air balloon, had ignited the pilot light in the propane burner that would pump hot air into the balloon, then pulled a trigger to initiate a "full burn."
"(Pennock) described hearing a loud, sharp release of pressure which he described like the sound of a truck releasing its air brakes," the judge wrote.
“He looked up at the flame and then heard an explosion on his right side. He heard gas escaping, felt vapor around him and smelled propane. He felt a spray of fuel coming up beside his face.
"(Pennock) described it like being hit in the face with a blowtorch. He said he was stunned and blinded. He yelled to the passengers to get out of the gondola. When the plaintiff fell, he was burning, so he rolled on the ground. He then saw the balloon and gondola rising off the ground. The gondola was engulfed in flames. He noticed passengers jumping from the gondola to the ground.”
Langley mother and daughter Shannon and Gemma Knackstedt were killed and 11 others, including Pennock, were injured when the Aerostar S77A Pennock was piloting Aug. 24, 2007 caught fire during takeoff preparations at the 18843 8 Ave. RV park.
- with files from Tracy Holmes