Safety is top-of-mind at National Balloon Classic in Indianola following tragedy in Texas

Experts say hot air balloon pilots are well-trained

By Orko Manna | omanna@weareiowa.com

Published 07/30 2016 10:25PM

Updated 07/30 2016 10:25PM

INDIANOLA - The National Balloon Classic in Indianola is keeping safety at the forefront of their event this week.

That's because of a tragedy that happened Saturday morning, where 16 people died after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed in central Texas. The crash happened in a pasture near Lockhart, Texas just after 7:30 a.m. Authorities are still looking into what caused the accident to happen, but believe it could be due to hitting a power line.

And now locally in Indianola, hot air balloon safety is a top priority.
 
The National Balloon Classic in Indianola is one of the biggest hot air balloon events in the Midwest. It's been filling up the Iowa skies with nearly 100 amazing hot air balloons every year, for more than 40 years.
 
"It's really quiet. You're standing in a spot where no one has ever stood before, and it can sometimes take your breath away," said Bill Clemons, the race director for the National Balloon Classic.
 
Watching the hot air balloons go through the sky is a marvelous sight, but it can be dangerous being hundreds of feet above the ground. And after the tragedy in Texas, organizers at the National Balloon Classic in Indianola say safety is an even bigger focus now.
 
"We always have an eye toward safety here, and especially [at] an event like this," Clemons said. "We have rules and we're governed by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] for safety."
 
One of those rules says to properly rig the balloon before inflating it.
 
"Challenges would be just finding a good landing spot," Clemons said. "Pilots are always on the lookout for obstacles, certainly power wires are something pilots are always on the lookout for."
 
And although there are risks with going up in a hot air balloon, spectators at the National Balloon Classic say that what happened in Texas is an isolated incident, and that they're not afraid of taking to the skies.
 
"I don't see a lot of stories of hot air balloons coming down, so probably the overall risk might be a little bit smaller than, say, driving or maybe even boating," said Ryan Hawes of West Des Moines.
 
"I don't think it's something that happens too often, so I think there's risk in everything, but I think I would still do it," said Christina Gillen of West Des Moines.
 
And experts say the same goes for pilots.
 
"As long as we follow the rules they set forth, and pilots fly safe, then we can have a lot of fun," Clemons said.
 
The National Balloon Classic goes until August 6th.

 

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