Most of the time, the landing of a hot-air balloon is pretty uneventful. But the rare exception makes for the stories that balloon pilots tell around the late-night campfires at balloon festivals.
When the winds are strong, balloons can be smacked around pretty badly during landing. The gondola can hit the ground hard, then be dragged for hundreds of feet before the hot air can be vented and the envelope comes to rest. Rocky terrain can toss passengers and pilots around like dolls.
Sometimes the winds pick up unexpectedly, and there aren’t many options but to get the basket on the ground as quickly and as safely as possible. Depending on the geography, that could mean coming down in a pasture, where cow flops put a whole new twist on the definition of a landing hazard. Sometimes, the landing takes place in a cultivated field, flattening a swath of marketable crops in the process.
Do you think having a parachute on your back would make ballooning a little safer? Think again. Most experts say that a parachute fall should begin at 2,000 feet above the ground. Balloons sometimes don’t get much higher than a few dozen feet Also, because of their large surface area and wind resistance, balloons don’t fall very fast even at their worst
Perhaps the most dangerous landings happen near cities or towns where balloons are forced down in a residential area. It seems a summer doesn’t go by that the local headlines don’t include some sort of ballooning mishap such as a landing on a residential street or in someone’s swimming pool. In some cases, injuries can result, but they’re usually no more severe than a few bumps and bruises.