The balloon's basket lies on its side at the accident site in a cattle paddock. The deflated balloon envelope lies folded in the field.
The accident balloon at the site. Photo: TAIC
Ultramagic Balloons, N-250, ZK-MET, pilot ejection from basket on landing Lyndhurst, near Methven, 1 January 2022
Occurrence Date
Report Publication Date
What happened
On 1 January 2022, an Ultramagic Balloons, N-250 hot air balloon, registered ZK-MET (the balloon), was undertaking a commercial scenic flight near Methven, Canterbury. On board were the pilot and seven passengers.

The landing area was the second paddock in a series of paddocks immediately after crossing a road. The paddocks were wide, but short in the direction of travel. A power line ran along the side of the road, approximately perpendicular to the direction of travel.

Approaching the landing point, the pilot activated the balloon’s fast deflation system by pulling down on a red-coloured rip line connected to a large vent at the top of the envelope (the part of the balloon that held the hot air and provided lift).

The basket initially contacted the ground in a firm landing and then bounced, tipping over on its second contact with the ground and ejecting the pilot from the basket.

The basket came to rest approximately 35 metres from the initial ground contact. All passengers remained in their braced landing positions until after the balloon had deflated.

The pilot’s final position was behind the basket, with the rip line caught around their neck. This resulted in serious injury from the rope and the basket passing over the top of them. The passengers were not injured and the balloon was not damaged.

The balloon was fitted with a pilot restraint harness, but the pilot did not wear it during the flight.

Why it happened
Balloon landings are a safety-critical phase of flight and rely on the pilots’ ability to control the balloon.

Balloon control relies in part on the weight of the basket’s contents remaining consistent. As such, the ejection of any contents, persons or otherwise during the landing phase affects the ability to control the balloon, and therefore affects the balloon’s landing. The loss of a pilot is the most critical scenario.

Firm landings with associated tip-overs are not uncommon, and managed correctly they pose minimal risks. However, they can increase the risk of other adverse outcomes. The operator had identified the potential risk of a firm landing and tip-over and produced documentation in support of this. The pilot had also briefed the passengers before the flight, and again before landing.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (Commission) found in this occurrence that the pilot’s briefings almost certainly helped to prevent injuries to the passengers.

The risk of pilot ejection was not adequately understood. The Commission found that the pilot would almost certainly not have been ejected had they been wearing the pilot restraint harness that was fitted to the basket. The operator’s procedures required the pilot to wear a pilot restraint harness; however, the Civil Aviation Rules specifically exempted balloon pilots from using pilot restraint harnesses during landing.

On 22 February 2022 the Commission issued an urgent recommendation that the Director of Civil Aviation take prompt steps to mandate the wearing of pilot restraint harnesses during critical phases of balloon flight.
What we can learn

Balloon pilots should wear pilot restraint harnesses for critical phases of flight.

Balloon owners and operators should install pilot restraint harnesses if they are not already fitted into the balloon basket.

Passenger safety briefings are essential to passenger safety. It is essential that briefings are clear and concise and that passengers listen to and understand them. There is an added benefit in practising brace positions prior to flight.

Who may benefit
Balloon operators, pilots and passengers may all benefit from the findings and recommendations in this report.
Ashburton, NZ (-43.690020,171.730035) [may be approximate]