Fatal crash balloon firm partner 'is no runaway'

Hitting back at reports, a company official says Peter Kollar intends to be back in the UAE for next season, which begins in October.

AL AIN // A company that owned and operated a hot-air balloon that crashed, killing two people, has denied reports that one of its partners has fled Dubai with no intention of returning. Reports last week in the New Zealand media said Peter Kollar had left the UAE following the accident.

However, they were vehemently denied by Abdulrahman Abu Alrub, an official of the company, Balloon Adventures. "Neither Peter nor anyone else from Balloon Adventures has been charged with any criminal wrongdoing or negligence since the GCAA [General Civil Aviation Authority] report came out," he said. "Peter owns a ballooning company in Germany and that is where he is now. But he will be back in the UAE for the start of the next ballooning season in October.

"Every summer, Balloon Adventures suspends its operations here in the UAE due to the high summer temperatures, which make gaining lift in a hot-air balloon very difficult. This is also the period that we send our balloons to the UK for maintenance." The balloon's pilot has been released from prison after being cleared of any wrongdoing. Piotr Gorny was found not guilty by an appeal court judge on July 11, following a report by the GCAA that also cleared him.

He had initially been sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay a fine of Dh20,000, as well as Dh200,000 in blood money to the each of the victims' families. That ruling was made on May 21, before the GCAA had completed its investigation. "When the GCAA's findings were presented to the appellate court judge, he saw that Piotr was not at fault and ordered that charges against him be dropped and that he be released," said Mr Abu Alrub.

The GCAA report blamed unexpected high winds on the day of the accident, April 25, as the main cause. In June, Saif al Suwaidi, the director general of the GCAA, said the accident could lead to new restrictions and guidelines for ballooning. "After getting the report, we will decide whether further action needs to be taken, such as recommendations for all balloon operators," he said at the time. "There could be some restrictions."

Following its investigation, the GCAA recommended that seats and seat belts should be provided for passengers to use on landing. It called for communication and weather forecasting equipment at Al Ain Airport to be upgraded. However, the GCAA did not find that Balloon Adventures flew the Cameron Z-425 balloon in contradiction to the manufacturer's specifications. It found that the wind speeds, which had been high earlier in the morning, were within the manufacturer's recommended limit when the balloon took off.

Once the balloon was airborne, wind speeds unexpectedly and dramatically increased, forcing the pilot to make the fateful emergency landing. Mukesh Shah, 56, from India, Jean Pierre Chamignon, 53, from France and Hilary Mtui, 27, from Tanzania, were thrown from and hit by the balloon's three-tonne gondola as it crash-landed. Shah and Chamignon died instantly. Balloon Adventures' insurer will pay each of their families Dh200,000.

Mr Mtui, a Balloon Adventures employee who was making his first balloon flight, suffered a broken neck and severe spinal injuries that have left him paralysed. He remains in hospital. Mr Abu Alrub expressed sorrow at the loss of life and injuries. "Balloon Adventures and its staff feel great sorrow for the Shah and Chamignon families and for Hilary and his family and for those who were injured that day," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with them all." @Email:ealghalib@thenational.ae