|Written by Greg Ruland|
|Wednesday, 20 October 2010 01:00|
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration will look into a midair collision between a hot air balloon and an ultralight aircraft known as a paraplane, according to Cottonwood police.
The FAA will review evidence of the crash, which occurred over 500 S. Willard St., shortly before 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16.
The balloon and the paraplane were taking part in Cottonwood Airfest 2010, a celebration of aviation at Cottonwood Airport.
Russ Beach, a festival attendee, said he watched the entire incident unfold several hundred feet in the air.
Beach said the paraplane appeared to be circling the hot air balloon when the collision took place. The paraplane became entangled with ropes attached to the balloon and both aircraft began spiraling down to the ground.
It took the balloon and paraplane about 45 seconds to descend, Beach said.
“They fell slowly at first, then accelerated as hot air escaped from the balloon,” he said.
Ken Ritchie of Cornville was piloting the paraplane. He was strapped into the aircraft as it fell. Three others, Susan Evans, Jon Bidolf and Eric Wadleigh, clung to the inside of the balloon’s wicker basket as it descended.
Before the two aircraft hit the ground, a tall chain link fence broke their fall.
Evans, Bidolf and Wadleigh were transported to Verde Valley Medical Center with unspecified injuries. Ritchie was airlifted to Flagstaff Medical Center due to head and spinal injuries.
“It did not appear his injuries would be life-threatening,” Cottonwood police spokesman Sgt. Gareth Braxton-Johnson stated.
“At this point, it is uncertain as to the cause of the accident,” he stated. “It is possible the cause could be related to mechanical failures, inattention or both.”
Police will gather evidence and attempt to determine whether the accident could have been avoided, Braxton-Johnson stated.
Before he took off from Cottonwood Airport, Ritchie said his paraplane was not difficult to fly and he had no fear of piloting the craft.
Immediately before the collision, Ritchie’s paraplane, two airplanes and several balloons could be seen flying or floating in close proximity over and around the airport. Cottonwood Airport has no control tower and pilots are expected to communicate with each other to avoid collisions.
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