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Fri, Dec. 06

Paraglider, hot air balloon collide over Cottonwood -- Four injured, one air-evacuated

VVN/Jon Pelletier<br>
A hot air balloon and a paraglider collided during Airfest at the Cottonwood Airport.

VVN/Jon Pelletier<br> A hot air balloon and a paraglider collided during Airfest at the Cottonwood Airport.

COTTONWOOD - It was a rough start to Cottonwood's Airfest 2010 Saturday when a paraglider apparently flew into the path of a hot air balloon, tearing a hole, and became entangled in the balloon's load ropes, causing both to fall from the sky.

About a dozen balloons lifted off the airstrip around 7 a.m., as the second annual event was getting under way. Two paragliders, with their motorized wings, then joined the balloons in the air. The collision occurred about 7:30 when one of the paragliders maneuvered too closely to one of the last balloons to inflate, became entangled in the ropes and tore the balloon fabric.

With the balloon losing air, the two entangled aircraft plummeted to the ground, a distance Cottonwood Police estimated at 500 feet.

The falling aircraft crashed, first onto the perimeter fence of Unisource Energy building, just north of the airstrip in the airport industrial park. The balloon then spilled over into the parking lot.

There were two occupants of the balloon in addition to the balloon's pilot and the pilot of the paraglider. Gareth Braxton-Johnson, Cottonwood Police spokesman, said all suffered some injuries, though not life-threatening. The three occupants of the balloon were taken to area hospitals. The paraglider pilot suffered a head injury and spinal injuries and was evacuated by air.

Both Cottonwood Fire and Police departments had crews at the Airfest and quickly responded to the accident.

Braxton-Johnson says there has not been a chance to interview the pilots, but it would seem difficult to make rapid change in the path of the balloon. He did not know if the paraglider suffered mechanical problems.

Braxton-Johnson citations and prosecutions could occur at a later date if merited by the investigation.

The pilot of the balloon was identified as Eric Wadleigh, 53. His passengers were Susan Evans and Jon Bidolf. The pilot of the paraglider was Kenneth Ritchie, 65.

The National Transportation Safety Administration and the FAA have been advised of the incident and will investigate.

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