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Province Sues Over Hot Air Balloon Tragedy

September 8, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

The pilot of a hot-air balloon that burst into flames over Hazelmere RV Park & Campground near Langley, British Columbia, three years ago, killing two people, is among several parties being sued by the province for health-care costs associated with the crash.

SRP Adventure Tours Ltd., Aerostar International Inc., Raven Industries, Doug Scott and the attorney general of Canada (Transport Canada) are also named alongside pilot Stephen Pennock, in documents filed Sept. 2 in British Columbia Supreme Court, bclocalnews.com reported.

Langley mother and daughter Shannon and Gemma Knackstedt were killed and 11 others, including Pennock, injured when the Aerostar S77A Pennock was piloting Aug. 24, 2007 caught fire during takeoff preparations at the 18843 8 Ave. RV park.

Investigation determined a substantial fuel leak caused an uncontrolled blaze in the cockpit.

According to the court documents, the province claims Pennock operated the balloon “when he knew or ought to have known that he lacked the proper skills and training to safely operate and maintain the balloon.”

As well, the claim states Transport Canada was negligent and/or breached its duty of care by issuing operating certificates without ensuring Pennock and SRP Adventures Ltd. were adequately equipped “to conduct a safe balloon operation.”

Pennock, through a statement issued Friday, disputes the allegations.

“Three years ago, the lives of my passengers as well as some people at Hazelmere RV Park changed forever,” Pennock writes. “Transport Canada has verified that the aircraft had been properly maintained and inspected.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t feel extreme sadness about the horrific accident.”

John Kageorge, a longtime friend of Pennock’s who has been speaking for the pilot since the tragedy, described the government’s claims as false.

“Steve knows these allegations will be dispelled and the facts will be clear in the eventual legal hearings,” Kageorge said by email.

The province’s claim, allowed under Sec. 8 of the Health Care Costs Recovery Act, is the latest in about two dozen suits and countersuits filed in connection with the crash. It describes passenger injuries including traumatic brain injury, bone fractures, burns and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Several surviving passengers have filed suit, as have the Knackstedt family, owners of mobile homes that were destroyed when the basket crashed and even Pennock himself. The owner-operator of the RV park also seeks damages.

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