YOUNTVILLE (KPIX 5) — Passengers who were riding in the hot air balloon that hit live power lines near Yountville and injuring three people were still shaken Monday night, describing how they felt the balloon pilot failed to do his job.
One person was seriously burned and two more were injured during the late Monday morning incident, according to a Cal Fire captain said.
The incident happened around 8:10 a.m. on a balloon carrying 19 passengers and a pilot. The hot air balloon — owned by Napa-based company Balloons Above the Valley — was descending and at least one passenger in the basket came into direct contact with a live power line.
“The 911 caller was actually on the balloon and so she did not know where she was at,” said Battalion Chief Jason Martin of CalFire.
Passengers Anton Lang and his wife Joanne, who are vacationing in the Napa Valley from New Jersey, thought the pilot was flying toward lines as a joke.
“He just never pulled up. He just never operated the balloon. I thought he was going to pull, like seriously, an April Fool’s joke,” Anton Lang told KPIX 5. “We all thought he was going to give us a scare or something silly. And he … I don’t know what happened. He just flew right into the power lines.”
Lang said it felt like a slow-motion disaster.
“We hit the power line. It was a bare, steel wire and we hit and we dragged it for a distance,” explained Lang. “Time went by — a minute or two — before it cracked. The wire cracked. And when it cracked, it arced, and that arc is what burned the woman. “
A woman suffered severe burns to her torso and left arm and was taken by helicopter the burn unit at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Two others aboard suffered minor injuries from the power line arcing.
The pilot identified himself to passengers at “Bob” and said he had 42 years experience piloting hot air balloons. Lang said the pilot seemed “out of it.”
“We hit the tops of trees after the first set of power lines. ‘Bob, you’ve got another set of power lines coming. You’ve gotta get up!’ And then, you know, he got us up,” remembered Lang. “It was at our request, not his action. He failed us.”
“He didn’t take control of anything,” said Joanne Lang, referring to the pilot.
Anton Lang estimated that the balloon was still traveling at 10 to 15 miles per hour when the basket finally hit the ground with a thud. He then tried to help the burned woman out of the basket.
The incident happened in full view of construction workers building a home just south of Yountville. At first, they were unfazed because hot air balloons landing are a near daily occurrence in the few open spaces between grape stakes in the Napa Valley.
“I didn’t see the flash. It was one of those things that happened and we didn’t know it was an emergency until we started seeing the emergency responders. And boy, there was a lot of them,” witness Franz Gorski told KPIX 5.
Monday evening the Langs were still shaken and have questions.
“Did he not see it? Was he depressed? Was he on medication? Was he….it’s been haunting me all day,” said Anton Lang.
According to FAA records, the balloon in question was built in 2017. Under FAA rules, it must be inspected after every 100 hours of flight.
The FAA is investigating the incident. KPIX 5 reached out to Balloons Above the Valley for comment Monday night, but the company refused to respond.