A world-renowned hot air balloon pilot died on Thursday after falling from his balloon during a crash landing, causing him to get trapped under the basket before the aircraft took off again over eastern Vermont.
Brian Boland, 72, fell to his death after becoming entangled in homemade gear underneath the basket during a flight over the Connecticut River region near Bradford.
The incident happened after Boland took off with his balloon that was carrying four other passengers.
The balloon took off from Post Mills Airport in the Vermont town of Thetford.
After Boland fell to his death, a passenger, Roger Blake, 73, was able to land the balloon safely across the river in New Hampshire, the Valley News of Lebanon, New Hampshire reported.
Brian Boland, 72, (pictured) died Thursday after falling out of his hot air balloon, which was carrying four passengers from the Post Mills Airport in Vermont
In a harness he created, Brian Boland takes off attached to a hot-air balloon with a passenger above Westshire Elementary School in West Fairlee, Vermont, on February 26, 2013
Blake’s wife, Ellen, 67, and Boland both fell from the basket after the pilot landed the balloon mid-flight when he realized that the burner was out.
The burner heats the air inside the balloon, allowing it to rise. Since the burner was out, the balloon began to fall rapidly toward the ground, prompting Boland to look for an igniter.
By the time Boland was able to relight the burners, it was too late.
The balloon crash-landed in a field in Fairlee, but the force of the landing caused the basket to tumble over.
Ellen Blake and Boland were thrown from the basket. While Ellen was thrown clear, Boland became entangled in ropes underneath the basket.
Since the burner was relit and there was one fewer person inside the basket, the balloon quickly regained altitude.
At that point, Boland became entangled in harness gear he had affixed to the balloon as it re-ascended.
Vermont State Police said he eventually ‘fell to the ground from an (unknown) height’ into a Vermont field and was later pronounced dead.
Blake, who was in the balloon alongside his wife, Ellen, 67, and their daughter, Emily Blake, 37, had to act fast after Boland fell from the aircraft.
The balloon was gaining altitude swiftly as it hovered over the town of Fairlee, Vermont.
Investigators gather in Bradford, Vermont, on Friday following the death of a hot-air balloonist Brian Boland, 72, the pilot of the hot-air balloon that had been carrying a total of five people
‘I had no idea what I was doing,’ Roger Blake told Valley News, recounting the moments he and his daughter were in the aircraft.
‘I just kept looking for a place to land.’
The balloon then traveled up the Connecticut River for more than a mile.
Roger Blake told his granddaughter to put her head down inside the basket while he frantically searched for a place that he could land the balloon.
He then saw a large field behind a farm in Piermont, New Hampshire.
‘I was just trying to get it on the ground,’ he said.
Roger Blake began the descent, but the balloon landed into the top of a group of poplar trees that lined the Connecticut River.
The basket was stuck near the top of the trees, posing a danger. If the basket tipped over, the family could have fallen out.
The branches under the basket began to give way, and the basket kept getting closer to the ground as each branch snapped.
Luckily, the basket stayed upright. As it hung just a few feet from the ground, the family jumped. Nobody was injured.
Responding crews told NBC5 News that Boland’s balloon ran out of fuel mid-flight, causing the aircraft to plummet to the ground while those on board attempted to switch fuel tanks.
‘The guy was probably the top balloon pilot in the world,’ said Scott Wright, who knew Boland for over 30 years.
‘It must have been some freaky, flukey thing that happened.’
After the pilot’s death, three other passengers remained in the balloon as it continued to fly until it got caught in a grove of trees about 1.5 miles north in Piermont, New Hampshire, where they escaped without injury.
Mick Murphy, a balloon pilot and past president of the Balloon Federation of America, from Bethlehem, Connecticut, said he’d known Boland since the mid-1980s. He described Boland as a talented artist who designed a balloon for his college that he flew over his school’s campus in 1971.
‘He was a very eccentric fellow,’ Murphy said.
‘No one danced in the same orbit as Brian. At 72 years young, and he was still looking 100 years down the road.’
Boland still owned that original balloon, the Phoenix, which he designed in 1971 and inflated every year on his birthday, said Murphy, who traveled to Vermont this past May for the 50th anniversary of that first flight.
Beyond the artistic, Boland – who had over 11,000 hours of experience piloting balloons – was a forerunner of experimental lighter-than-air balloon building. He pushed the major manufacturers on lightweight balloon designs that ‘we would not have today if it wasn’t for Brian, for his creativity, his passion,’ Murphy said.
Boland founded the Experimental Balloon and Airship Association, which was based at the small private Post Mills Airport, which he owned.
Post Mills is a hamlet in the town of Thetford not far from the Connecticut River border with New Hampshire, about 30 miles southeast of Montpelier.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a preliminary report on the crash which identified the aircraft as a Cameron 0-105 hot air balloon.
Federal and state officials are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the crash.
Boland, who had over 11,000 hours piloting balloons, was a forerunner of experimental lighter-than-air balloon building
Boland also created sculptures made out of scrap wood, including the 122-foot-long dinosaur called the Vermontasaurus that sits alongside an airship museum at the Post Mills Airport
‘The guy was a legend in his own time,’ said Scott Wright, the owner of the Silver Maple Lodge in nearby Fairlee who worked with Boland offering packages of stays at his lodge and flights in Boland’s balloons.
Last week a couple stayed at his lodge who were taking a balloon ride for their 20th anniversary, Wright said.
Boland also made and sold balloons.
Wright said people from Switzerland stayed at his lodge once because they were in town to buy a balloon from Boland.
Wright, who called Boland one of the top balloon pilots in the world, said Boland came to Vermont in the late 1980s so he could buy the Post Mills Airport.
There is also a balloon and airship museum at the grass airfield that has several large sculptures made out of scrap wood, including the 122-foot-long dinosaur called the Vermontasaurus that Boland made.
In a 2017 nomination for the United States Ballooning Hall of Fame, Murphy wrote that Boland’s museum includes antique chase vehicles, ballooning paraphernalia, and more than 200 balloons and airships.
Boland was not elected to the hall of fame in 2017, but Murphy said he would be considered again.
There was no answer Friday at the airport.
Boland founded the Experimental Balloon and Airship Association, which was based at the small private Post Mills Airport, which he owned