Print Paraplane collides with hot air balloon
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 20 October 2010 01:00

One of at least THREE injured passengers from a hot air balloon involved in a collision with a paraplane is treated by firefighters and paramedics shortly after the early morning start to the Cottonwood Airfest on Saturday, Oct. 16.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.

Emergency responders remove Cornville paraplane pilot Ken Ritchie from his aircraft following his early morning collision with a hot air balloon during the Cottonwood AirFest on Saturday, Oct. 15.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.

Tangled nylon from the canopy of a paraplane and a hot air balloon lie on the ground where the pair fell after a mid-air collision near the Cottonwood Airport on Saturday, Oct. 15. The accident occurred right at the start of the Cottonwood AirFest.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.

The crumpled frame of a Cornville pilot's paraplane lies on the far side of an energy company's fence after an early morning collision with a hot air balloon at the beginning of the Cottonwood AirFest on Saturday, Oct. 16.“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.
One outcome of the investigation could be criminal charges against the responsible party, he 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.

A paraplane dangles from a hot air balloon as both rapidly descend after colliding above the Cottonwood Airfest around 8 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 16. About 45 seconds after colliding, the two craft crashed near 500 Willard St. The plane’s pilot and the balloon’s three passengers were taken to hospitals with non-life-threatening injuries. The cause of the collision is under investigation.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.