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CHP Rescues Napa Tourists After Hot Air Balloon Makes Emergency Landing

NAPA (KPIX 5) – Tourists who were taking in the scenic Napa Valley on a hot air balloon ride Tuesday had their journey turn into a rescue mission, when the balloon went off course and made an emergency landing near the Napa River.

"They got a nice balloon ride and a free helicopter ride," CHP flight officer Tom Lipsey told KPIX 5.

Lipsey said as CHP helicopters were out training, he noticed something colorful from the flight hanger.

"We looked over there, saw a hot air balloon that was pretty far south of where we normally see them," he recalled.

A helicopter found the balloon on a remote levee, miles off course, near the Napa River. The pilot told Lipsey he didn't have enough fuel to lift off.

CHP RESCUES HOT AIR BALLOON PASSENGERS Devil's Slough, Napa County, Calif. – On May 17, 2016 at approximately 0700 hours, the crew of Golden Gate Division Air Operations Airplane-37 (A-37) was preparing for the first flight of the day when an inflated, but grounded hot air balloon was observed 3 miles south of the Napa County Airport. As A-37 became airborne, the crew observed the hot air balloon had landed on a thin strip of land which was surrounded by a network of ponds and sloughs. Further examination of the area revealed there was no road access to the location. A-37 initially contacted the 17 passengers of the hot air balloon via the airplane's public address system. Through the use of the airplane's camera system and hand signals from the passengers, it was determined none of the passengers were injured. A-37 eventually discovered the pilot of the hot air balloon possessed a portable aviation radio and all subsequent communication between A-37 and the hot air balloon pilot was conducted through the radio. A-37 advised the hot air balloon pilot that road access to his location was not possible. A-37 contacted CHP Helicopter-32 (H-32) to assist with transportation of the hot air balloon pilot and passengers to a safe location. H-32 responded from the Lake Berryessa area to the hot air balloon's location. After determining safe landing and drop-off zones, H-32 performed a series of flights from Devil's Slough to an open area at the end of Milton Road approximately 1.5 miles north east of the hot air balloon's location. Carneros Volunteer Fire Department and Cal-Fire assisted with scene safety and medical assessment at the Milton Road landing zone. The California Highway Patrol Golden Gate Division Air Operations Unit, based at the Napa County Airport, operates four aircraft (two airplanes and two helicopters) which patrol the 9 Bay Area Counties, approximately 6,923 square miles that is home to a residential population of more than 7 million people. The helicopter is routinely staffed with a CHP Officer/Pilot and a CHP Officer/Paramedic. The helicopter is equipped with a rescue hoist containing 165 feet of cable which is routinely used to lift patients and rescuers up to a cumulative weight of 450 pounds.

Posted by CHP - Golden Gate Division on Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"The winds were kind of shifting all over as we were landing, so I think it was just a really strange day for winds and maybe caught them off guard," Lipsey said.

The balloon belongs to Napa Valley Balloon Inc. Representatives told KPIX 5 the people on the balloon ride were tourists that were part of a Robert Mondavi wine tasting trip.

The helicopter had to make multiple trips to rescue the 16 tourists and the pilot.

One of the tourists posted on Instagram a selfie from the chopper.

"I know they were taking a lot of selfies and videos of us flying over there so I am sure they got good memories there," Lipsey said.

Napa Valley Balloon Inc. said the strong winds forced their pilot to land on the levee, but no one was ever in danger.

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