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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Pilot accused of causing hot air balloon crash that left three disabled

Tourists left permanently affected by 50-metre fall, but pilot denies charge of violating the rules and regulations of his profession

A hot air balloon pilot accused of causing an accident that left three tourists with permanent disabilities has been referred to the Dubai Misdemeanours Court.

The Egyptian pilot, 36, told the court that he had family problems that required him to return to his home county, but on the day of the accident his management turned down his request for leave. He then operated a balloon flight for a group of 20 tourists.

Court records said that on February 15 last year the defendant flew the balloon in Al Margham area, carrying the tourists, including two Moroccans and a Portuguese man. The balloon, operated by Sinbad Gulf Balloon, had been on a sightseeing flight.

While landing after a 45-minute flight, the accused reportedly pulled the red deflation port line, but released it before all of the air could fully escape. This caused the balloon to lift off again.

He acted quickly to halt the take off by switching off the burner while still pulling on the line, which caused the balloon to plunge from around 50 metres and crash in to the ground near Al Faqa police station.

Police were contacted and the injured group of tourists were referred to Rashid Hospital.

“I suffered a fracture in my right leg that required treatment for about two months and I don't have medical insurance. I want compensation for my injury and for the time wasted because of this accident,” said the Portuguese tourist.

A Moroccan woman, whose age was not disclosed in records, sustained a 15 per cent permanent loss of ability, according to records, and two other men sustained 10 per cent deformities.

“When my friend and I arrived to the site, we expressed our fears because of the bad weather. It was very foggy,” said one of the Moroccans, adding that the defendant insisted they should board because the weather would soon be better.

“He said that it was not the first time he operated in such weather and reassured us that he had never caused injury to a client,” said the woman.

“I sustained injuries in my back, neck and legs. The pilot was obviously inexperienced. I want to be compensated,” the records reported her as saying.

During police and prosecution questioning, the pilot denied the accusation and argued that he was taken by surprise to see the balloon taking off again. He said that he had acted according to procedures to bring the balloon down.

“His family problems supposedly affected him, but a pilot should not operate a flight if he or she has personal problems, was fatigued or lacked focus and the defendant failed to comply to this rule,” said a civil aviation expert in a report.

In court, the 36-year-old defendant denied a charge of causing permanent disabilities to three people by violating the rules and regulations of his profession.

A verdict is expected soon.

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