The hot air ballooning, as beautiful as a butterfly, the gentle giant of the skies, a peaceful but exhilarating means of viewing the countryside, suddenly seems a dangerous way to fly. Yet only a few months ago its safety record seemed impeccable.
Now, after four accidents and 17 deaths in quick succession, more than hot air will be needed to restore faith in ballooning as a sport, recreation and tourist delight. Bad luck is not acceptable as an explanation for disasters involving passengers and pilots.
Air ballooning has a long tradition, and it is unthinkable that it should be banned. This would destroy a pleasure and an industry that belong as much as high-powered aircraft to the skies and which are among the least noisome expressions of humankind's determination to be airborne. The Premier, Mr Bannon, is correct in resisting a ban, as he would be if, following glider or light plane fatalities, it was proposed to ground all such aircraft.
But the disasters since August need to be thoroughly investigated, not only to discover whether there are common factors. It must be determined whether the balloons and balloon operators are satisfactorily vetted for safety. Civil aviation authorities and commercial balloon operators appear to be aware of their responsibilities to learn what they can from the four accidents, but the public - potential passengers and people on the ground need to know that structural and safety requirements and pilot skills are of the highest standard. This should be required of any public operation which takes passengers aboard.
As two of the accidents involved collisions with powerlines it may be that new regulations will have to be framed about where balloons are permitted to fly and the knowledge balloon pilots must demonstrate about whereabouts of powerlines and other potential hazards. Vision and visibility may be factors, too, along with ability to react quickly in emergencies; this latter perhaps involving some pre-flight instructions to passengers.
While the helium-filled Double Eagle had virtually no controls and was at the complete mercy of the winds, the pilots of the Pacific Flyer will be able to maneuver the balloon up and down until it is centered in the core of the jetstream.
Ballooning is an adventure, and it would be a tame world that banned provision or enjoyment of adventurous pursuits. The task of authorities is to set standards and see that they are maintained, so that those who take to the air in balloons are not taking a greater risk than they know about.