Report details dramatic hot-air balloon crash that killed Vermont pilot

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Investigators gather along the Connecticut River and Route 25 in Bradford, Vt., on July 16, following the death of a hot-air balloonist. (Geoff Hansen/The Valley News via AP)

A preliminary report released Monday details how three passengers were able to radio for help and crash-land a hot-air balloon without injury in July, after their pilot and a fourth passenger were thrown overboard by the impact of an initial crash and bounce back to the sky.

The pilot, Brian Boland, 72, died in the crash. He took flight July 15 from an airport he owned in Thetford, Vermont, with four passengers aboard the balloon that was registered for sightseeing, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The balloon flew northeast along the Connecticut River, cruising for about 45 minutes before Boland reported that the pilot light on the burner was out. Boland changed to a new propane tank, but could not find the striker to relight the burner, a passenger told the safety board.

Boland found a backup striker and relit the burner, but the balloon had descended too far to avoid impact with the earth. It made contact in a field south of Bradford, Vermont, throwing a passenger from the basket and sending the pilot overboard with a foot entangled in the balloon’s attach rope, according to the safety board.

The balloon rose back into the sky, carrying Boland below the basket before he fell in a field near the Connecticut River.

The remaining passengers contacted ground support on a handheld radio, receiving instructions on how to operate the balloon in preparation for landing. The craft traveled about 3.5 miles from the initial crash site before it made contact with trees and crash-landed in a wooded area in Piermont, New Hampshire, according to the safety board.

The passenger who was thrown from the basket sustained minor injuries. The other three were not hurt.

Boland — who had over 11,000 hours piloting balloons — was a forerunner of experimental lighter-than-air balloon building. He pushed the major manufacturers on lightweight balloon designs that “we would not have today if it wasn’t for Brian, for his creativity, his passion,” said Mick Murphy, a balloon pilot and past president of the Balloon Federation of America.

Boland founded the Experimental Balloon and Airship Association, which was based at the small private Post Mills Airport, which he owned.

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