Airport Guiltless as to Paraglider-Balloon Crash

     (CN) – A man who crashed his paraglider into a hot air balloon at an annual Airfest in Cottonwood, Ariz., while trying to take pictures cannot blame the city, an appeals court ruled.
     The crash occurred during the Cottonwood Airfest on Oct. 16, 2010, “an annual event featuring hot air balloons lifting off early in the morning and other activities at the Cottonwood Municipal Airport,” according to the ruling.
     On the night before the event, hot air balloon pilot Scott Nichol met with retired doctor Kenneth Ritchie. They made plans for Ritchie and Ritchie’s son to fly powered paragliders during the Airfest and take mid-air photos of Nichol’s balloon.
     The Ritchies did not RSVP for the event, and its organizers did not expect any paragliders to participate. For those reasons, the Ritchies did not receive a safety briefing from Airfest personnel before taking off.
     Airfest organizers did, however, have the Ritchies relocate three times while they were trying to set up.
     After flying for 30 minutes and reaching an altitude of 1,500 feet, Ritchie’s paraglider collided with a hot-air balloon piloted by a dentist. Both Ritchie and the people in the balloon’s basket all suffered injuries.
     Facing lawsuits from the injured balloon passengers and their spouses, Ritchie in turn sued the city of Cottonwood and its airport.
     The Yavapai County Superior Court ruled for Cottonwood Airport, however, and an appellate panel in Phoenix affirmed last week
     Ritchie claimed that the airport owed him a duty of care as an invitee to its event, and had a duty to maintain reasonably safe conditions for all aircraft using the airport during Airfest.
     “A landowner’s obligation to invitees, however, is not limitless,” Judge Maurice Portley for a three-person panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals.
     “Like the hot air balloons that safely launched, Ritchie successfully launched and flew his paraglider for about one-half hour before the accident,” the Aug. 25 decision states. “As a result, he ceased to be an invitee after successfully getting into the air and moving away from the airport.”
     It would have been a different matter if the collision had occurred while Ritchie was trying to take off at the uncontrolled airport, according to the ruling.
     “Instead, the accident occurred in the air while Ritchie was taking photographs and did not see the … hot air balloon,” the ruling states. “Consequently, based on the record before the trial court, the Cottonwood Airport did not owe a duty to Ritchie.”
     Since Ritchie stopped being an invitee as soon as he left the airport, “the Cottonwood Airport did not have a duty to warn him of the obvious – that there were many hot air balloons in the sky floating in the currents of wind and he had to be careful to avoid the risk of colliding with any of them,” the ruling continues.
     The judges also emphasized Cottonwood Airport’s inability “to control the airspace where the aerial accident took place.”

%d bloggers like this: