Incident Being Treated As Accident, Possible Suicide
Ian Cox was about 700 feet up in his hot air balloon Tuesday, on a
30-minute pleasure ride in Steamboat, CO, with five passengers.
Then, suddenly, there were four.
Near the end of the ride, passenger John Lippincott, 54,
inexplicably rolled out of the basket and plunged to his death.
"When my back was turned... he got back on the edge of the
basket. Instead of staying inside, he rolled back over like a scuba
diver," Cox said. "When he jumped, he didn't shout -- there was
none of that. It was silent the whole time. Not a word."
Lippincott landed in a field near US Highway 40 about 8:30 am
"I was on the radio to one of my crew members, and as I glanced
back at him, his head was going down, his feet were coming up, and
he was off the edge of the basket," Cox said. "And that was the
last I saw of him."
The four other passengers on the Wild West Balloon Adventures of
Steamboat flight were two girls from Missouri, ages 15 and 16, and
a couple from Massachusetts, both 22, according to the Steamboat
Pilot And Today.
Capt. Joel Rae of the Steamboat Springs Police Department said
criminal charges are unlikely.
"There is no indication of anything criminal or any foul play
taking place," Rae said. "It is being investigated as an accident
or a suicide at this point."
Cox, who has logged more than 3,500 balloon flights, said
Lippincott began acting strangely once the flight began.
"He wanted several photos of himself with another person's
camera, and he kept asking about it, which I thought was strange,"
Cox said. "He sat on the edge of the basket one time... It wasn't a
particularly dangerous thing, but I didn't like it. He was never
outside the basket; he just sat with his butt on the edge. I
reprimanded him in the strongest way to make sure he came back
inside the basket."
Rae said the Federal Aviation Administration and National
Transportation Safety Board had been notified of the incident.
The NTSB has recorded eight fatalities on hot air balloon rides
in the US in the last five years.
Cox said those deaths were probably accidental. "I asked in the
industry, and no one has ever heard of someone doing this before,"
He said he does wish Lippincott hadn't chosen such a public
avenue because the other passengers "were freaked out -- they were
very upset, and understandably."
"I'm angry that he would impact other people's pleasure,
particularly the other passengers on the flight," Cox said. "My
confidence remains high, because I did nothing wrong. I couldn't
have anticipated he would jump, and I operated the balloon in a
"I never dreamed that he was suicidal," he added.