When a prominent pilot goes missing, as happened last week when Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer Davis were lost during the Gordon Bennett balloon race, it reveals the limits of our technology in unexpected ways. The failure of the balloon system, given that the team encountered thunderstorms while flying over water, is not hard to understand. But it seems tragic that with all the gear they had on board, not one piece of technology has succeeded in leading searchers to the crash site.
The balloon was equipped with an ELT, the race organizers said, along with various types of communications gear and a tracking device that would report the team's location every few minutes, via satellite. Given that the latest official information shows that the balloon was heading for the water at a rate of 50 mph, it appears that none of that gear survived the impact.
The tragedy, in cases like this, is multiplied. Two capable pilots are lost, and that's sad enough, but we can assume that they were aware of the risks and had accepted them willingly. The victims are those left behind, the families and friends, who need confirmation of their loss, but maybe even more so, assurance that the pilots didn't await rescue in vain. It's a story told too many times, from Amelia Earhart, to Steve Fossett, and now to Abruzzo and Davis.
I don't know of any kind of tracking device out there that would have survived the theoretical crash into the sea plus the subsequent immersion in salt water. But I hope if it exists, it will be required equipment for future races, and if it doesn't exist, I hope somebody is working on it.