Gordon Bennett 2010 USA2 Balloonist Located Off The Coast Of Italy


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Gordon Bennett 2010 USA2 Balloonist Located Off The Coast Of Italy

By Mike Mitchell

December 7, 2010 - The Gordon Bennett 2010 balloon air race suffered a tremendous lost when the U.S. hot-air balloonists team USA2, Richard Abruzzo and Carol Rymer-Davis balloon went down over the Adriatic Sea on September 29, The bodies of Abruzzo and Rymer-Davis were located on Monday after they and their balloon were caught up in a commercial fishing net off the coast of Puglia, Italian. 

On September 29, 2010, at 0558 coordinated universal time, a Ballonbau Worner hydrogen-filled balloon, N801NM, operated by Peak Express Balloon as an entry in the Coupe Aeronautique Gordon Bennett 2010 International Gas Balloon Race, was lost from Italian air traffic control (ATC) radar over international waters of the Adriatic Sea. The goal of the race was the team that flies the farthest distance from the launch site wins. 

The balloon was presumed destroyed, and the certificated commercial pilot and commercial-rated copilot were presumed killed. A range of meteorological conditions prevailed over the 4 days of the flight that originated at Bristol, England, September 25, 2010, at 2329 coordinated universal time. 

According to the Italian Agenzia Nazionale Per La Scurezza del Volo (ANSV), the last radio contact between the Brindisi, Italy, air traffic control center and the balloon occurred at 0558. The target identified as the missing balloon was descending at a high rate when it was lost. The Italian Coast Guard coordinated a six-day search using their ships, U.S. Navy aircraft, and a remotely-piloted underwater vehicle. No evidence of the balloon or its crew was discovered. 

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the balloon was manufactured in 2001, and issued a standard airworthiness certificate on June 6, 2005. Original maintenance records for the balloon were not immediately available; however a copy of the balloon's most recent annual inspection record revealed the inspection was completed July 28, 2010, at 195 total aircraft hours.

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for lighter-than-air-balloon. His most recent FAA third class medical certificate was issued July 9, 2009. The pilot reported 1,850 total hours of flight experience on that date. On his entry application prior to the race, the pilot declared 2,087 total hours of flight experience, 1,450 hours of which were in gas-filled balloons.


The copilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a rating for lighter-than-air-balloon. Her most recent FAA second class medical certificate was issued December 12, 1984. The copilot reported 0 total hours of flight experience on that date. On her entry application prior to the race, the copilot declared 1,250 total hours of flight experience. The copilot did not declare her total hours of flight experience in gas-filled balloons, but instead declared her experience as 30 flights in gas-filled balloons. Media reports, as well as anecdotal evidence from the staff at the Gordon Bennett Race and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Inc., revealed that the pilots were a renowned, champion, balloon racing crew who held several world records.


According to a Senior Meteorologist at the National Transportation Safety Board, infrared and visible satellite images at 0600 UTC on September 29, 2010, depicted an area of cumulonimbus clouds developing in the vicinity of their last coordinates.

The radiative cloud top temperature was between -28 to -30 degrees Celsius which corresponded to cloud tops in the range of 25,000 to 26,000 feet.  The visible imagery indicated some signs of transverse banding on top of the anvil, which also implied strong vertical shears, turbulence, and thunderstorms in the area.

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