How Often Do Hot Air Balloons Crash? Fatalities Are Rare In Ballooning

Sixteen people are believed to be dead after a hot air balloon crashed Saturday in Lockhart, Texas, the Federal Aviation Administration has reported. It's a devastating and tragic end to an activity often characterized with a quiet but colorful romanticism, but is it altogether uncommon? How often do hot air balloons crash?

Fatalities in hot air balloon accidents are rare, according to statistics from the National Transportation Safety Board. A total of 21 people have been killed in hot air balloon accidents occurring in the United States between 2000 and June 2016, according to a database of incidents kept by the National Transportation Safety Board. Saturday's crash brings that number up to 37. The National Transportation Safety Board has investigated roughly 225 hot air balloon incidents in the past 16 years.

Saturday's crash in Central Texas appears to be one of the deadliest hot air balloon accidents in recent memory. The deadliest incident killed 19 people in February 2013, when a hot air balloon flying over Luxor, Egypt, caught fire, NBC News reports. A year earlier, 11 people died when a hot air balloon crashed into a power line and caught fire in New Zealand.

While hot air ballooning is considered by many to be a relatively safe means of flying, there are some inherent dangers that could potentially lead to a crash – excessive speed when landing the basket, a collapse of the parachute-like balloon after a mid-air collision, and coming into contact with power lines.

Although officials have yet to determine the cause of Saturday's crash, fires sparking when balloons come into contact with power lines appears to be the biggest risk for hot air balloon enthusiasts, according to Jean-Claude Weber, president of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale's Ballooning Commission. "If you've hit a power line there isn't a fire extinguisher made that can put that out."

According to records from the National Transportation Safety Board, of the 17 fatal hot air balloon accidents investigated by the agency in the United States between 2000 and June 2016, eight were in some way related to power lines — either a crash resulting from an attempt to avoid them or a fire started after colliding with them.

While Saturday's fatal incident is likely to be one of the deadliest hot air balloon accidents in the last decade, fatalities remain relatively low in ballooning. As with any sport or hobby, however, it's important to know the risks involved before casting off into the sky.