Wed, May 07, 2008
Pilot Withdrew From Friends, Investigators; Passed Away In
Tom Reyes lived out every balloonist's nightmare during
last year's Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New
As ANN reported, his balloon
became entangled in power lines October 8, and he and four
passengers fell to the ground during his attempt to free the craft.
60-year-old Rosemary Wooley Phillips died. The other three
passengers filed suit against Reyes, two companies for which he
worked, and the festival.
The National Transportation Safety Board's probable cause report
lists 11 factors in the crash. Board members ruled Reyes was
distracted by another balloon hitting a house, and that he was
flying too low. They said the ground crew pulling on a drop line
while Reyes fired his burner caused a propane tank to rip a hole in
"The pilot felt one corner of the basket drop and saw the hole,"
the report reads. "He looked up through the balloon's throat and
could see blue sky because the dilation vent had become unseated.
He did not know he had lost a passenger until the other passengers
started yelling, "She fell out! She fell out!" The balloon drifted
east, and then descended. The pilot said the balloon came down
faster than terminal descent speed. It landed hard at the
intersection of Comanche Road and Vassar Road. Passerby tended to
the pilot and passengers until emergency personnel arrived."
Balloon pilot and trainer Beth Wright-Smith told KRQE-TV News
she had known Reyes 20 years, and saw the accident take a profound
toll on him. "He's been flying a long, long time. He flew hundreds
and hundreds of people," she said. "I can imagine how it would ruin
your life and how bad you feel for the people who were involved,
the families. It would be just awful."
KRQE reports Reyes withdrew from friends and family after the
accident. The NTSB says he stopped responding to an investigator's
questions. In March, he died of medical problems.
The lawsuit, however, lives on. KRQE reports one of the sued
parties is in the process of settling.
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