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Balloonists' FOUR MINUTE death fall after accident at 21,000 feet

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balloonTWO balloonists fell to their deaths for a full four minutes after ascending to a height of four miles.

The £20,000 balloon plummeted at a rate of 5,500 ft-per-minute before hitting the ground and exploding in a fireball – in front of the co-pilot's wife and son.

A report into the accident concluded the Cameron 0-120 balloon ascended faster than the flight manual allowed and reached 21,780 feet, where the air temperature was -22C, before pilot Lee Pibworth, 42, and passenger Allan Burnett, 55, started their descent.

Their initial descent rate was 1,500-feet-per-minute but 80 seconds into the descent it speeded up rapidly to 5,500 feet-per-minute.

After crashing at speed, it burst into an "intense post-impact fire”, the report concluded. A post mortem concluded Mr Pibworth was killed on impact while a severely injured Mr Burnett, Blenheim Scout leader, died in the fire.

The accident took place at Prattens Bowls Club in Midsomer Norton, near Bath, Somerset.

Neither of the men, both from Bristol, was wearing a parachute.

Air traffic controllers said that after reaching 21,780ft, they began to descent with 'no signs of stress' adding: “Nothing further was heard from the balloon by the ground crew or air traffic control.

“There was no sign of stress in the voices of the balloon occupants during any of the transmissions.”   The AAIB said it was impossible to determine exactly which factors contributed to the tragedy but said  that at heights in excess of 15,000 hypoxia - a lack of oxygen to the brain - can lead to deteriorating performance and even blackouts.

(Pic: A Cameron O-90 balloon)

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