Owner of hot air balloon involved in Rancho Penasquitos crash speaks out

Blames crash on lack of landing space in county

SAN DIEGO - The owner of a hot air balloon which crash landed in Rancho Penasquitos with a wedding party inside spoke for the first time to 10News about the landing gaining national attention.       

Passengers want the balloon company to take responsibility, but the owner is pointing the finger in another direction.

When 10News set up an interview with balloon passenger Karen Narcisse, she was crying over the phone and said she considered what happened to be a near-death experience.

"The crash was difficult, yes," she told 10News. "Just the whole experience... being wonderful and being tragic at the same time."

Narcisse admitted that the pilot did all he could when the strong gusts of wind pushed the balloon near homes. Though the passengers have not been pointing fingers, the owner of Skysurfer balloon rides has been.

"I know pilots that have quit," said owner Connie VonZwek. "They won't even fly here because they are so nervous about being

VonZwek was referring to being arrested for landing on city-owned property. That is something that she says authorities take seriously.

When asked if the pilot would have had city-owned property to land on, VonZwek answered, "This wouldn't have happened… It probably wouldn't have happened."

VonZwek said the pilot involved in the crash has been flying for 25 years. He is the president of the San Diego Balloon Association. 10News spoke with pilot Pete Brunner in 2008 when he complained that suburban sprawl was contributing to hard landings.

"It's becoming more difficult because our open space is diminishing," he told 10News in a 2008 interview.

But while attention to this story grows, the Narcisses wonder if the balloon company will take responsibility for injuries. VonZwek said she saw the video footage of the crash landing a bit differently.

"Filming away, not even holding on," she said. "That's how someone gets seriously injured in a situation like that. They don't listen to the pilot."

One passenger was taken to the hospital after the crash landing for a minor back injury. VonZwek said that the passenger had a pre-existing condition that she did not make the company aware of.

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