Tuesday, 29. July 2014
12. 05. 14. - 20:00
A family and the pilot of a hot air balloon suffered severe burns and broken bones when it caught fire as they enjoyed a leisurely airborne cruise over a Russian city.
Mihail Popov, 43, his wife Lena, 41, and 10-year-old daughter Dasha, were hit by a jet of flame when the engine aboard the balloon malfunctioned as they were 500 feet up in the sky over the countryside surrounding the western city of Nizhny Novgorod.
The pilot of the craft, Gregoriy Karolev, 49, was wrestling with the gas distribution valve aboard the balloon for several minutes before there was a sudden fierce blowback of burning gas that hit him and his guests like a flamethrower.
He managed to make the balloon descend rapidly. When it was just 20 feet from the ground, but in danger of rising again, he told his guests to jump and he followed them out.
Later in hospital he said: "There was a malfunction with the gas distribution. I tinkered with it and suddenly there was a jet of fire that came from nowhere. The next thing I remember was a savage pain in my arms from the burns and the screams of the unfortunate people aboard."
Eyewitnesses on the ground saw the flame suddenly spill out across the basket. Ivan Demnyansky, one of the ground workers at the Fifth Ocean club where the balloon was based, said: "I could see that there was trouble aboard. After the jet of flame shot out the balloon began to descend swiftly. When it was just a short way away from the ground the people jumped.
"They looked to be quite badly burned in places but I think all of them are expected to pull through."
Police are probing the weekend accident - and focusing on the pilot who took to the air with a flight certification document that was a month out of date.
"The prosecutor's office will assess the actions of all participants of the accident and will respond with measures designed to bring the perpetrators to the statutory responsibility and prevent similar events in the future," said a spokesman for the local prosecutor.
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