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O.C.'s Great Park balloon grounded after Hong Kong crash

Orange County’s Great Park balloon has been grounded for inspection after a giant balloon in Hong Kong made by the same manufacturer sprang a leak and dropped from the sky last week, injuring five people.

Great Park officials shut down the ride for an immediate inspection Friday after learning about the Hong Kong incident, said Great Park spokesman Marcus Ginnaty. Crews didn’t discover any issues with the balloon, but Ginnaty said it will remain grounded until inspectors sent by the manufacturer — Paris-based Aerophile — arrive in Irvine to conduct their own investigation.

Ginnaty said Monday morning that the Aerophile team was en route, but he did not know how long the inspections would take or when the balloon ride would reopen.

“It’s very much a precautionary measure,” Ginnaty said. “It looks like the balloon is fully functional, but we’re working closely with the manufacturer to take every precaution.”

The Orlando Sentinel reported that two other Aerophile balloons — one at Florida's Downtown Disney and another at Disneyland Paris — have also been pulled for inspection. Eight people were aboard the Hong Kong balloon when it fell about 200 feet to the ground on Thursday, reported The Standard, a Hong Kong newspaper.

Four people aboard suffered minor injuries, along with a person on the ground who was hit by the falling balloon. An investigation into what caused the crash is ongoing.

Orange County’s tethered orange orb, which opened in 2007, averages between 500 and 600 riders a day, Ginnaty said.

It was grounded for more than four months in 2008 while the Federal Aviation Administration and a city-paid expert looked into a former pilot’s claims that the balloon had been operated in unsafe conditions. Neither substantiated the allegations, but the FAA required Irvine to file a new permit and address deficiencies in records.


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Photo: The Great Park balloon, seen in a 2011 photo, takes aloft an average of 500 to 600 people each day, officials said. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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