Pilot killed in Chesco in fall from balloon

Posted: June 18, 2014

The pilot of a hot-air balloon died Sunday morning when he fell out during a landing in an East Pikeland Township field and was crushed under the basket, police said.

The basket was carrying 10 passengers.

Jeffrey Hooten, 47, of Albuquerque, N.M., fell when he reached out of the balloon's basket to pull a rope that would deflate the balloon around 7:20 a.m. Sunday, said East Pikeland Police Chief James Franciscus.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Hooten fell when the balloon bounced after it struck the ground, according to preliminary findings.

When police arrived in the 500 block of Wall Street, passengers were performing CPR on Hooten, a father who worked for the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team, which operates flights in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Hooten, who also had a Spring City address, was pronounced dead at Phoenixville Hospital.

The Chester County Coroner's Office said it would perform an autopsy Tuesday.

Stan Hess, a balloonist and spokesman for the balloon operator, said he did not want to comment until after the coroner released the report.

The balloon's 10 passengers, who live in Philadelphia; Trevose; Hamilton, N.J.; and New York, were not hurt, police said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating.

Hooten had also piloted balloons for Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, Auriga Balloon Co. on Grand Cayman, and Sundance Balloons in Ontario, according to his Facebook page.

Hooten had flown hot-air balloons since 2006, according to Auriga Balloon Co.'s website, which lists Hooten as an employee.

The NTSB has investigated more than 600 hot-air balloon accidents in the United States since 1982, most of which were not fatal.

Ginny Doyle, a Philadelphia native and the associate head coach of women's basketball at the University of Richmond; another Richmond basketball official; and the pilot died in May when their hot air balloon hit a power line, caught fire, and crashed in Virginia.

Another balloon operated by the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team struck trees in windy conditions and landed hard in April 2013 in Chester Springs, seriously injuring three passengers who were burned by propane, according to the board's records.


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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