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Balloon Pilot Loses Crash Suit

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The pilot of a hot air balloon that caught fire, resulting in the death of two of his 12 passengers in British Columbia in 2007, has lost his lawsuit against the balloon's manufacturer, Aerostar International. Stephen Pennock claimed the fuel lines on the balloon were improperly assembled and designed, resulting in the horrific accident in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver, in August of 2007. The Vancouver Province reported B.C. Supreme Court Gregory Bowden said he was unable to determine from the evidence whether strain on the fuel line or improper assembly caused it to break and in any case he said it wasn't established that the addition of any further safety devices would have prevented the disaster. He dismissed Pennock's suit. It was the last litigation involving the accident. Aerostar had settled out of court with others involved and would not discuss details of the settlements.

Pennock testified during the trial that as he lit the burner on the balloon, he heard a sound like a truck releasing its air brakes and he was enveloped in propane vapor. Before he could shut off the pilot light, the gas in the air ignited and he yelled at the passengers to get out of the basket, according to the judgment. He said he fell out of the basket in flames and it started to rise. All except two passengers were able to jump from the burning basket. Shannon Knackstedt, 49, and her 21-year-old daughter, Gemma, were trapped in the basket as it shot up about 1,000 feet before dropping into an RV park. Many of those who survived were burned or suffered injuries from jumping. The accident led to Canada's Transportation Safety Board calling on Transport Canada to tighten safety regulations for commercial balloon operations.

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