South Florida hot air balloon pilot discusses Texas tragedy

Posted at 4:18 AM, Aug 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-02 04:18:48-04

In the wake of the tragedy that struck Texas over the weekend, Mark Kersten, a hot air balloon pilot from Miami, talked Monday about the importance of safety when flying.

“Whenever you leave the loving arms of Mother Earth, there is a risk involved,” said Kersten.

Kersten has been in the ballooning industry for three decades and uses a basket that he nicknamed Betty to take his passengers to new heights.

“We tend to just make dreams come true,” said Kersten.

Yet this weekend's accident is bringing him and other ballooning enthusiasts down.

“Our hearts go out every time,” said Kersten.

Sixteen people died on a hot air balloon in central Texas.

Investigators said the balloon likely crashed into power lines before coming to the ground.

“Power lines are our worst enemy,” said Kersten.

When it comes to safety, Kersten says that the precautions taken on the ground before the balloon goes up are critical.

He says that a lot of thought goes into where to launch the balloon.

Three factors that are taken into account before the launch are wind direction, wind speed and precipitation.

If all three factors are not ideal, he may have to cancel the flight, even if it means disappointing his passengers.

“Two out of three are not going to cut it,” says Kersten. “It has to be a nice gentle day, nearly perfect.”

He says that the balloons themselves are inspected every year, or after every 100 hours of flight.

“I heard that other pilots canceled that morning because of the weather,” said Kersten. “So, maybe he saw something that they didn’t, or didn't see something everyone else did”.

The air balloon enthusiast maintains that ballooning is safe, as long as your pilot is too.

“I'm a single father,” said Kersten. “Would I feel comfortable flying my daughter? If not, we'll fly another day.”