INTRODUCTION: In Australia, a three-man balloonist team narrowly escaped death on Wednesday (6 May) on an inaugural flight from Australia across Bass Strait to Tasmania.
SV & GV Basket and balloon prepared for take-off (4 shots)
SV PAN Balloon being filled with hydrogen gas (5 shots)
SV & SCU Crew members prepare to take-off, and entering basket (4 shots)
SCU & GV Balloon rising (2 shots)
AERIAL V & GV Balloon and crew moving over countryside (4 shots)
SV INTERIOR Inside cockpit
AERIAL V Balloon moving over sea (3 shots)
SV INTERIOR Watcher in aircraft cockpit using binoculars
GV & SV Balloon caught in power lines with crew throwing out ballast, and balloon crashing to ground
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Background: INTRODUCTION: In Australia, a three-man balloonist team narrowly escaped death on Wednesday (6 May) on an inaugural flight from Australia across Bass Strait to Tasmania. The balloon made the crossing successfully before crashing into power lines coming down onto Tasmania's rugged north west coast.
SYNOPSIS: Balloonists Phil White, Gary Geier and Arnold Himson were determined to be the first balloonists to cross from the Australian mainland to Tasmania. Their preparations had been meticulous.
Finally, on Wednesday morning everything was set. The wind from the north was steady, the balloon filling nicely. Hydrogen for the balloon cost the balloonists about 700 dollars. They would have preferred much-safer helium, but that would have cost thousands of dollars more. Helium doesn't burn, but with hydrogen, one spark, one cigarette butt could create a holocaust.
The three flyers wore parachutes in case the balloon exploded or ripped. And they also had divers' wet suits as protection against having to ditch in the waters of Bass Strait, which would be chilly in late autumn.
For one of them, Phil White, it was the first time aloft in a balloon. The craft was almost totally at the mercy of the wind. They would manoeuvre to make the balloon rise by dropping sand ballast, or make it sink by releasing gas. The trick was to locate, and use, a wind going in the right direction.
And, over Bass Strait, they found the right one. At 1,500 feet it pushed the balloon briskly towards Tasmania. This flight over the Strait was considered one of the most dangerous undertaken in Australia. Atmospheric conditions approaching the ridges of the Tasmanian coast are treacherous.
As they came down, the balloonists jettisoned ballast to try to avoid hitting power lines. But they clipped the lines and crash-landed. Phil White said he thought he and his companions were going to die.