By Amy Wilder
In an unfortunate accident during the 66th Gordon Bennett Cup, a sport gas balloon, flown by Poland Team 1, collided with a powerline while participating in the international distance competition. The accident, which occurred near Crandall, Texas, located southeast of Dallas, has left both pilots, Krzystotf Zapart and Pjotr Halas, residents of Poland, with injuries, according to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (ABIF).
The balloon’s flight took a dramatic turn Monday evening when it came into contact with the powerline. Both pilots were transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Texas, for medical attention. Zapart, the lead pilot, suffered cuts and burns to his legs and arms, and Halas is being treated for burns and broken bones in his legs and midsection. The experienced gas balloon pilots have logged significant flight hours in their careers, according to a statement put out by ABIF on Tuesday.
“We are relieved that the outcome of the incident was not any worse, and to hear that Krzysztof may be released from the hospital later today,” said event director Tomas Hora in a statement Tuesday. “We are receiving many words of encouragement and support from the other teams participating in the Gordon Bennett and from the ballooning community throughout the United States and the world,” Hora added.
Poland Team 1 was among 17 gas balloon teams participating in the 66th Gordon Bennett Cup, an international distance competition that draws elite balloonists from around the world. The team had the honor of being the first to take flight when the launch window opened at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday. All the participating teams embarked on their journey from Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and headed eastward toward the Texas-New Mexico border. Poland Team 1’s flight path took them over Arlington, Texas, at approximately 3:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time Monday.
The team maintained an altitude of 12,000 feet while passing above the Dallas-Fort Worth (KDFW) airspace before beginning their descent. The balloon’s tracking device indicated a stop in motion at 7:25 p.m., marking the accident. The weather and visibility conditions in Crandall were reported as good at the time of the impact.
Hydrogen gas adheres to industry standards for gas balloon flights in both North America and Europe, where the sport enjoys significant popularity.
At the time of the accident, the team’s two-person chase crew was in Wichita Falls, Texas. It is customary for chase crews to strategically position themselves in anticipation of their teams’ flight paths, making it easier to track and support the balloons during their journey. The chase crew members joined the injured pilots in Dallas.
Despite the unfortunate event, the 66th annual Gordon Bennett competition continues. Several participating teams were expected to land today. The competition represents the pinnacle of gas balloon racing and will continue to captivate enthusiasts and competitors.
“The pilots participating in the Gordon Bennett are well aware that this is a challenging sport that has a certain element of risk as in all air sports,” said Hora in the statement. “Krzysztof and Pjtor are people with adventurous spirits and long-time balloonists who well understand those risks. They would not wish this incident to distract or draw attention from the competition still underway as teams continue to try to achieve the greatest distance from the starting point in Albuquerque.”