Hot air balloon pilot offers insight into deadly crash

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SAN DIEGO – As the third victim of Friday’s deadly hot air balloon crash in Virginia was found, San Diego County’s Balloon Association sent their condolences and offered insight into the crash.

“Our hearts go out to the victims and families and loved ones of that tragi event,” said Phil Brandt, balloon pilot and community liaison of the county’s Balloon Association.

In Virginia, the balloon collided with power lines before bursting into flames. Brandt said the balloon community has their own take on what possibly went wrong.

“Personal friends of mine are personal friends of [the deceased pilot], and they tell me that more than likely, given the low light conditions, because it was getting close to sunset, and because of the overcast skies,” Brandt said. “He didn’t have enough visibility to be able to see he was about to contact power lines.”

While power lines pose a great risk and are difficult to see, Brandt said it is not something to be too concerned about in San Diego.

“The fields we land in in San Diego are basically devoid of power lines. The majority of power lines developed in the newer areas are underground,” Brandt said.

Brandt assures thousands of balloons fly every day worldwide and emergencies are extremely rare. He has been a pilot for twenty-four years and has completed more than 7,000 flights. He along with the Skysurfer Balloon Company said they value the safety of their customers first and foremost.

“Have no fear [in taking balloon rides]. The people that [fly balloons], like myself, are well qualified. Here in the U.S. we are all commercially rated hot air balloon pilots. We have licensing procedures that we go through. We also have bi-annual flight reviews,” Brandt said.