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Wind carries deflating balloon into Hampstead powerlines, five aboard uninjured

By Jason Schreiber, Union Leader Correspondent
June 21. 2013 8:55AM
A hot air balloon became tangled up in wires on Emerson Avenue in Hampstead Friday morning. (Jason Schreiber)

HAMPSTEAD - Four passengers and a pilot aboard a hot air balloon escaped injury this morning after a gust of wind picked up their deflating balloon and blew it into power lines, cutting electricity to part of the town.

The balloon accident happened just after 7 a.m. when the balloon operated by Arizona-based Havasu Ballooning was attempting to land in a field and became tangled up in the wires in the area of 180 Emerson Ave.

The five people on board were able to crawl out of the basket, which landed in some shrubs on the ground under the wires in front of Dean Howard's house.

No one was hurt.

The pilot, Charles A. Sica of Lake Havasu City, Az., said he took off from the Salem Walmart earlier in the morning. When the balloon began to deflate he decided to land in the field next to Howard's home. However, when he tried to land a cross wind blew the balloon into primary wires, which began to arc.

"All of a sudden a gust of wind came from a different direction and blew us right in between a tree and the power lines. We were just about to touch ground and the wind just took us and slammed us right in," Sica said.

Hampstead police Officer Kathleen Boulter was one of the first officers to arrive and found the balloon approximately 15 to 20 feet off the ground and tangled in the wires.

Sica shut off the propane and as the balloon deflated the basket was lowered to the ground.

Patty Williams, who lives nearby, said her husband could hear the passengers "screaming" as the balloon went over before it landed.

"We want to stay as far away from the power lines as possible and certainly that was my intent today, but when you get a situation like this where we were just wedged right in between the tree and the power line and there was not a whole lot that I could do," Sica said.

Howard said he heard the balloon from inside his house and thought he would go outside to take in the sight. Then he stepped outside and realized there was a problem.

"I was like, 'Holy mackerel, he's in trouble,'" Howard said.

Sica threw a drop line to the ground and yelled for Howard and others on the ground to help pull the balloon away from the lines, but they couldn't move it.

Hampstead fire Capt. Will Warnock said the accident had the potential to be much worse.

"There was high voltage power with a wooden basket and a propane tank in it with four people in it. This is a great outcome for a potentially dangerous situation," he said.

Police identified the passengers as Dominique Maltais and Stephanie Gauthier of Windham and Ronald and Sharon Fish of Westmoreland. They didn't want to talk about their ordeal when asked for a comment at the scene.

Power was cut to about 3,000 customers in the area of Emerson Avenue and Route 111, where traffic lights were also out. Hampstead Central School, which is located not far from the scene of the accident, was forced to operate on a generator during the outage.

Sica said this is the first time he's ever had an accident like this, but he has no plans to quit ballooning.

"It's still a very safe sport. This was just kind of a freaky thing," he said.

Three of the balloon's panels were torn in the accident, but Sica said they can be replaced.

Howard wasn't worried about the damaged bushes.

"They're just shrubs. They'll grow back. At least nobody was hurt," he said.

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