South Plains Balloon Enthusiasts “Heartbroken” After Lockhart Crash

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Many have been mourning after the hot air balloon crash in Lockhart, TX Saturday which, the FAA reports, killed all 16 people on board.  For those who are part of the hot air balloon community, the news of this crash is especially devastating 

“I was actually on the road driving to Austin at the time, I heard the news and it’s shocking,” said Terry Driscoll, Vice President of the Southwest Regional Balloon Club.

“Our whole community of hot air balloon enthusiasts are just in shock, and heartbroken for the families that are involved in this and the pilot, we don’t know what happened, but it is a tragedy,” Driscoll said.

He explained that the hot air ballooning community across the southwest is tight knit. The Southwest Regional Balloon Club includes roughly 20 balloon enthusiasts and five balloon pilots. They serve the area around Lubbock, into Eastern New Mexico, and even into Eastern Oklahoma. 

For Driscoll, his love of ballooning started as a child. 

“I’ve always loved balloons, I’ve had a fascination since I was a kid chasing one on a bicycle across Lubbock,” he said.

He explained that ballooning is a sport that requires patience and attention to detail.

Driscoll  said there are plenty of safety concerns which go into hot-air balloon flying including: properly training pilots, checking the balloon before flight, avoiding smoke (no cigarettes or other smoke allowed anywhere near the balloons) and keeping an eye out for weather conditions.

In fact Driscoll and other members of the Southwest Regional Balloon Club said the winds in West Texas limit the size and frequency of balloons they can launch here.

Driscoll said that he’d never seen a hot air balloon the size of the one that crashed in Lockhart at any of the Lubbock-area ballooning events he’d been to.

The NTSB announced Sunday that it appears the balloon in Lockhart contacted a wire, though they could not say what role that contact played in the crash.  Driscoll said it makes sense that the wire contact would be a concern for investigators, wires and towers can be problematic for balloon pilots. 

“Anytime you ride in a balloon one of the things that pilots will ask the passengers for is help identifying high line wires, that’s the biggest risk when you’re in the air,” he explained.

While Driscoll feels that, by and large, hot air ballooning is extremely safe, he added that incidents like the one in Lockhart point out some of the dangers in his beloved sport.

“This is not a risk free sport, there are risks involved and it’s unfortunate that that’s the case, it is very fun and overall it is a very safe sport,” he said. 

For the general public who wants to learn more about hot air balloons and how they work, Driscoll encourages people in the Lubbock area to attend the South Plains Balloon Roundup which will be held the weekend of September 10 and 11 at Buffalo Springs Lake. He explained that people can go there to watch hot air balloons take off or to take a ride on tethered balloons. He said the event is safe and family friendly, there is no cost of admission but attendees do have to pay the gate fee at Buffalo Springs Lake. 

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