x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Balloon crash: 'It could have been us'

When Charles and Jeniffer Mallice heard about the fatal crash of a Balloon Adventures Emirates craft in the desert near Al Ain, their blood ran cold.

ABU DHABI // When Charles and Jeniffer Mallice heard about the fatal crash of a Balloon Adventures Emirates craft in the desert near Al Ain, their blood ran cold. Only a month before, the Abu Dhabi couple had been among 24 people who were dragged more than 100 metres in a terrifying balloon landing that had eerie parallels to Sunday's crash, in which two people died. Windy day. Terrifying landing.

"When I saw it was the same company, it was quite a shock," said Mr Mallice, 48, from the UK. Mrs Mallice wishes they had notified authorities. "When I heard about the incident I was so, so sad and thought that we should have tried to put in a proper complaint," she said. "We thought that it would just fall on deaf ears." The couple had received a sunrise desert balloon flight with the company as a wedding gift.

The couple said yesterday that when they arrived at the launch site at Nahel, about an hour's drive east of Abu Dhabi, on the morning of March 19, the winds were strong. One of the pilots, they said, decided it was too dangerous to fly. The crew apologised to the customers, and sent them home. "We actually turned to go back and on the way back to Abu Dhabi, but the driver got a phone call and they decided they were going to fly after all," said Mr Mallice, a security consultant.

Mr Mallice said the winds meant that the crew had problems inflating the balloon, one of three taking off from that site. After about 40 minutes in the sky, the pilot tried to land in a flat stretch of desert. "We were a few feet off the ground and he took off again because we were coming in very, very fast," Mr Mallice said. "People were standing there, looking at each other, wondering what was going to happen, and when we came in again we bounced, the basket tipped on its side and we were dragged for over 100 metres."

He added: "I was on the bottom and I had people on top of me, and basically I was trying to pull myself up, as the one thing I was thinking, as we were being dragged along, was that if there were rocks they were going to smack my head." However, no one was seriously hurt in the crash, he said. Among the passengers, the Mallices recalled, were children and a pregnant woman. Mr Mallice said: "It's an experience we wouldn't do again, definitely not. There are a lot of people packed inside that thing, and if it comes down, that's a lot of people injured."

Mrs Mallice said: "It was a 40-minute flight and the flight was OK, but when it came to landing that was a devastating period." Peter Kollar, the director of Balloon Adventures Emirates, said he could not recall the specific incident but said at least 10 per cent of landings made by balloons are rough.
lmorris@thenational.ae