Balloon pilot may have died gaining ‘competitive edge, report claims

Peter Gregory, from Cirencester, in Glos, was 'doing what he loved' when he died
Peter Gregory, from Cirencester, in Glos, was 'doing what he loved' when he died - UNPIXS

A leading hot air balloon pilot’s desire to “gain a competitive edge” may have contributed to the crash that killed him, an investigation has found.

Peter Gregory, 25, who was known as Pilot Pete, died when his balloon plummeted to the ground near the village of Ombersley, in Worcestershire, during a competition on June 25 last year.

A report by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found the crash happened when the balloon climbed rapidly before its envelope – the outer layer – collapsed as a parachute inside it stalled.

Investigators said the climb, the balloon’s design and the weather conditions all likely contributed to the crash.

The accident occurred while the balloon was climbing away from a target on which Mr Gregory had to drop a marker as part of the competition.

The report stated he may have used a high rate of climb to “gain a competitive edge because of his desire to do well in the competition”.

Mr Gregory had competed in balloon competitions around the world for several years.

The AAIB said it was told by several people who knew him that he was a “very safe pilot” but was “competitive and wanted to win”.

An unnamed friend said he was one of “the world’s best pilots, but [he] would push the limits of what [he] could do”.

Investigators were also told the competition at which he died “held more significance” as he had missed other events due to work commitments and needed to achieve a high enough score to qualify for international contests.

The balloon was a racing balloon built by Mr Gregory using “high quality materials”, the AAIB said.

Peter Gregopry was competing in a competition in Worcestershire
Peter Gregopry was competing in a competition in Worcestershire - UNPIXS

Amateur-built balloons such as his are unregulated in terms of airworthiness.

No evidence was found of performance limits being determined, including the rate of climb that could stall the parachute.

Lines used to control the parachute’s position were attached to the envelope lower than on other balloon types, providing improved responsiveness but increasing the stalling risk, according to the AAIB.

The report also noted there was “a strong wind gradient on the day of the accident”, and “climbing into a changing wind can cause the balloon to distort, increasing the chance of a stall”.

The AAIB made three safety recommendations to the British Ballooning and Airship Club, including the development of an “effective reporting culture within the ballooning community”.

Two recommendations were made to the Civil Aviation Authority, such as publishing guidance related to the oversight of competition balloon flying.