SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - After an unusual landing in a public park Sunday night, the pilot of the hot air balloon spoke exclusively with 10 News about how it happened.
It was just before dark when the hot air balloon landed in the middle of a Sabre Springs park, miles from its intended destination in Rancho Peñasquitos. Stunned neighbors took video of it flying low, coming within a few feet of trees.
Commercial pilot Phil Brandt with Magical Adventure Balloon Rides has almost three decades of flying experience. He told us Monday that what happened may have looked strange, but it wasn't dangerous. “Driving here I took more risk than flying the plane last night,” he added. He went on to say, “Most people don’t understand that balloons go where the wind takes them.” Brandt explained that pilots can’t steer the aircraft in a particular direction, but can only raise or lower it.
The balloon went over the 15 freeway, but he said he was sure it would not have landed on it.
There were eight people onboard. Although there were no reported injuries, the incident raises questions over safety in the hot air ballooning industry. A few years ago, a panda-shaped hot air balloon made an emergency landing by the busy 56 freeway. In 2015, a hot air balloon was forced to land in the middle of a street in Carmel Valley. Those incidents are just a few of what’s been seen locally. In 2016, 16 people died in a hot air balloon accident in Texas.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates hot air ballooning. This October, it issued a press release about tightening up safety measures. The release stated in part, “After a July 2016 balloon accident in Lockhart, TX that caused 16 fatalities, the [FAA] took proactive steps to increase the safety of hot-air balloon tourism…company pilots of balloons that are capable of carrying more than 4-6 passengers must be commercially certificated for 18 months, have a specified amount of flight experience, and hold an FAA second-class medical certificate. Pilots also must pass a drug and alcohol background check…”
10 News went through the database of aviation accidents, provided by the National Transportation Safety Board. It shows that in the last 10 years, there were 12 ballooning incidents in California. One person was killed.
The weekend incident in Sabre Springs has not been reported to the FAA.