Woman hurt in hot-air balloon crash seeks compensation

A woman who was injured when she jumped from a burning hot air balloon minutes before it crashed in Surrey, B.C., is threatening legal action if she is not compensated for lost work.

Pilot expresses regret to victims, families

A woman who wasinjured when she jumped from a burning hot air balloon minutes before it crashed in Surrey, B.C., is threatening legal action if she is not compensated for lost work.

Her remarks came after the pilot involved in Friday's crash, which killed two and injured 11,expressed his regrets to the victimsand their families in a written statement on Wednesday.

Speaking from a hospital bed, injured passenger Diana Rutledge said Wednesday that the injuries she sustainedwhen shehit the ground will prevent her from bartending for several months.

"I must be compensated,'' she said, adding that it will be some time before she can put any weight on her injured feet.

Thefire erupted justbefore the balloon was to take off on Friday evening. The fire caused the tethers to snap, allowing the balloon to rise before all of the passengers could get out. The blazing balloon and gondola then crashed into an RV park.

Shannon Knackstedt, 49, and her 21-year-old daughter, Gemma, both from Langley, B.C., died in the accident.

"I deeply regret the injuries and damages caused by this accident. My thoughts are with the families as they continue the healing processes," pilot Stephen Pennock said Wednesdayin his first public statement since the crash.

"Since Friday, my focus has been on trying to provide support to help everyone affected by this tragedy," said Pennock, the owner of Fantasy Balloon Charters.

He said he met on Tuesday with the Transportation Safety Board, which has begun its investigation into the cause of the accident.

"As part of their investigation, the Transportation Safety Board will review the hot air balloon industry, examine the equipment on the balloon, and look at any factors that could have contributed to Friday's accident," Pennock said in the statement.

Investigators learn basics of hot-air ballooning

John Kageorge, a spokesman for the company, told CBC News on Tuesday that Pennock was aware of a "popping sound" from the balloon before its launch.

"Prior to the launch of the balloon, the pilot reports a popping sound," Kageorge said. "That is really the focus of his curiosity to see if that popping sound might be related to this sudden fireball that first surrounded him."

Kageorge said Pennock hadn't discussed the specifics of the crash with investigators during Tuesday's meeting.

Kageorge said hot-air balloon accidents are so rare thatinvestigators looking at the crash are learning the basics of hot-air ballooning before the investigation can really begin.

"The Transportation Safety Board has asked that we start at square one, so today's discussion really was focused on hot-air ballooning itself," Kageorge said.

Kageorge said the TSB hasn't asked why Pennock got out of the balloon before the passengers, a fact some members of the public have questioned. Kageorge said the balloon had five compartments and a separate cockpit for the pilot, so Pennock couldn't have helped passengers if he had stayed in his compartment.

'It's no fault of his': pilot defended

Bob Daws, who has known Pennock for 16 years and worked with him for a time in 1998, defended the pilotamid talk of a lawsuit from at least one survivor.

Daws said Wednesday that Pennock is a perfectionist, who did everything by the book.

"I know his procedure and whatever and how he takes off and everything like that, and this is nothing but a damn accident," Daws said.

Kageorge said Fantasy Balloon Charters prepared itself for possible mishaps by getting insured with Lloyds of London.