BURLINGTON — Three people in a hot air balloon were ejected from the basket on June 1 after the balloon snagged on a passing rail car as the train’s engineer hit the brakes, federal investigators found.
The National Transportation Safety Board released preliminary findings on Tuesday into an incident that sent three people to hospital after their hot air balloon crashed into a moving train near downtown Burlington.
The federal agency reported that the balloon “caught” on one of the passing cars and the gondola was “ripped” from the rest of the balloon, causing the pilot and two passengers to fall out of the gondola. .
The balloon envelope then floated about 200 feet in the air before landing 500 feet from where the gondola came to rest, investigators found.
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“The envelope tore from the basket and the three people in the basket fell,” the report said. “The balloon basket was intact and found inverted near the railway line.”
What remains unanswered is why the hot air balloon was so close to the ground in Burlington when the collision occurred with a northbound Canadian National train.
But the NTSB report says Burlington was both the origin and destination of the June 1 balloon flight.
Lake Geneva Balloon director John Trione declined to comment on the NTSB report.
The federal agency plans to release its final report on the incident in about a year.
Canadian National Railroad officials could not be reached for comment.
The pilot of the balloon was identified as Jimmy Winder, 62, of Bristol, and the passengers were Nikolay Veltchev, 37, of Barrington, Illinois, and Elena Petrova, 36, of Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Burlington police initially said all three suffered life-threatening injuries in the incident. But all three were released from the hospital the next day.
The NTSB report says all three were “seriously injured,” although no further details were provided.
No injuries were reported on the Canadian National train.
Burlington police were called at 8:15 p.m. June 1 to the scene of the incident in the 400 block of Calumet Street near downtown Burlington.
Trione later reported that its pilot was attempting to land the Lake Geneva-based balloon on a road in a park and that the balloon had “contacted the train”.
Read the full NTSB report
The NTSB’s preliminary findings indicate that the train engineer saw the balloon descend and began to slow “because he did not know where the balloon was going.” When the engineer saw the balloon approaching the train through his side mirror, he applied the train’s emergency brakes.
The balloon landed in a grassy area near the train tracks, and as the craft lost air, it became “limp” and “began blowing towards the carriages”, the report said.
The balloon envelope then snagged on an empty car about 15 cars from the engine.
A witness at a nearby dog park told investigators that the balloon crossed the tree line, about 50 feet above the trees, and descended as if about to land. But the craft then continued on an adjacent street and towards the railway tracks.
The NTSB reports that the basket was later found intact and both propane tanks were intact and inside the basket. A fuel line was severed from a tank, the report said.