A hot air balloon operator fell to his death from the aircraft Tuesday morning in northern Israel.
The 28-year-old man, Yogev Cohen of Kibbutz Yizre'el, was hanging from the vessel during takeoff and fell off the balloon on a car driving beneath, however the passengers were unharmed.
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The hot air balloon, which had carried 12 people at the time of the incident, has landed safely.
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The incident occurred near Route 60 in the area of Balfouria, south of Nazareth.
The Jezreel Valley regional council said that despite the tragic incident, "each day many [hot air balloon flights] such as these have for years occurred safely and without incident."
Cohen had worked for the Lagaat Bashamayim balloon company for the last few months as ground crew. Under the company’s regulations, before the balloon is inflated, three ground crew members must be holding onto it to stabilize it.
A preliminary police investigation found that Cohen was one of the three ground crew members doing the stabilization. But for reasons as yet unknown, he kept hold of the bottom of the basket after the balloon had been inflated and took off with it.
“I’ve been flying hot air balloons for 20 years, and so far, I haven’t been able to understand why he did this,” said Almog Amir, who owns Lagaat Bashamayim. “He hung onto the lower portion of the basket. By the time the pilot noticed this, he was already at a height of 10 or 15 meters.
“Then they yelled to him from below ‘Jump, jump,’ while he was still near the ground. He said something like ‘No, I’m hanging in there,’ and then the pilot decided to get lower. But there were power lines and he couldn’t do so.
“He tried to land after crossing the road, but the wind brought him back. And at some point, Yogev could no longer hold on and fell onto the road from a height of 40 or 50 meters.
“We’re all in shock here,” Almog added. “He was a great guy.”
Cohen’s body was sent to the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir for an autopsy. The investigation has been transferred to the Civil Aviation Authority and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, which has so far decided not to issue a closure order against the company.
Gadi Regev, the Transportation Ministry’s chief air safety investigator, said the incident is still being investigated and the probe will apparently take some time.
“We’re focusing mainly on [how] to prevent the next accident,” he said. “Whether they deviated from the regulations, what the pilot’s checklist was, where they took off from and so forth. We aren’t looking for people to blame, but for the causes of the disaster, in order to prevent the next accident.”