Fuel leak led to deadly Canadian balloon crash

Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:57pm EDT
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada's transportation safety watchdog recommended tighter regulation of commercial hot-air balloons on Tuesday after finding a broken fuel line led to a midair fire last year that killed two people.

The line became disconnected, but because the balloon's fuel tank lacked an emergency shutoff valve the leaking propane could not be stopped once the fire began, the Transportation Safety Board said in its report.

Safety inspectors found the aircraft had been modified to add a fourth propane tank, but because of the lack of regulatory oversight the changes to the manufacturer's design were never challenged, the board's report said.

The change contributed to the likelihood the fuel line would be subject to extra wear and handling, the TSB said.

A mother and daughter died and 11 other people were injured -- some jumping from the craft in midair -- when the hot-air balloon caught fire as it was preparing to begin a sunset flight near Vancouver on August 24, 2007.

Amateur video broadcast around the world showed the flaming craft flying across the sky before plunging into a mobile home park. Three mobile homes and two cars were also destroyed.

The TSB said it was recommending that sightseeing balloons should be subject to the same level of regulation as similar-sized commercial aircraft, and required to have emergency fuel shutoff valves..

The federal transportation ministry is reviewing the recommendations to see if regulatory changes are needed.

(Reporting Allan Dowd, editing by Rob Wilson)