Clifton Supension Bridge drama as hot air balloon involved in ‘frantic’ near miss

May 25, 2010 | by | 6 Comments

This is the dramatic moment a hot air balloon narrowly avoided colliding with the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

Rookie pilot Craig Thompson, 30, was flying over the Avon Gorge at 7am on Monday morning when the wind dipped and he began sinking towards the landmark.

Horrified onlookers watched as he ”frantically” pulled on his burners to gain lift – and cleared the suspension cables by just a few feet.

The drama was captured on film by IT worker Michael Gavaghan, 58, as he prepared to leave for work from his home in Leigh Woods on the side of the gorge.

He said: ”I live really close to the bridge and I just saw the top of the balloon sail by the house – it looked like it was going to come down in the trees.

”So I ran up the road to the bridge and at that point he was in the gorge, below the bridge.

”The guy was frantically pulling on his burners, desperately trying to clear the bridge.

”He then started to rise and he was very, very close to it – you can see how close in the photos.

”There looked to be four people in the basket. They weren’t saying anything to each other – nothing at all. I think it had gone beyond hysteria at that point.”

Mr Gavaghan held his breath as the balloon’s basket lifted just enough to clear the suspension cables of the bridge, which stands 245ft above the gorge below.

He added: ”I don’t quite know how he managed to do it, but he was only a couple of feet away from hitting.

”The bottom of the basket just skimmed one of the suspension cables on the bridge.

”It could have been a real disaster – you could have ended up with people falling into the Gorge.

”They went down again and sort of meandered away down the gorge. I watched them for about 20 minutes and they disappeared.

”It was quite spectacular really.”

Pilot Mr Thompson only received his balloon piloting license two months ago and was taking a few friends for a flight from the nearby Ashton Court Estate.

Yesterday he admitted he ”might have come a little bit too close” the bridge but insisted his passengers were not in any danger.

He said: ”I wasn’t worried and wasn’t in any danger.

”The wind dropped out on me. It became light and variable so I tried to land as soon as possible.

”I might have come down a little bit too close to the bridge as I made my landing. If the balloon had hit the bridge I imagine it would have bounced back off.”

After clearing the bridge Mr Thompson navigated the balloon to land at nearby Durdham Down at around 8am.

Clifton Suspension Bridge was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to connect the city of Bristol with Leigh Woods across the Avon Gorge.

The 702-foot long structure was opened in 1864 has become a symbol of the city.

Category: News

Comments (6)

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  1. Chris says:

    What was this guy playing at??? As a newbie he should be fresh on his rules. 500ft, not 30ft!

    Idiot.

  2. Chris says:

    What was this guy playing at??? As a newbie he should be fresh on his rules. 500ft, not 30ft!

    Idiot.

  3. Mark says:

    What this guy was doing was stupid and illegal but I suspect he knew what he was doing. There is a huge misconception that balloons are uncontrollable or they're often 'out of control' – they're usually not.

    It is possible to fly a balloon within 6 inches vertically and keep it flying very steadily at the level you choose. When you learn to fly balloons skimming crops a foot above them is one of the exercises you would practise. This is the art of ballooning. What isn't so predictable is the direction you're going to travel!! That is up to the whims of the wind.

    I'm a hot-air balloon pilot with 13 years experience.

  4. Mark says:

    What this guy was doing was stupid and illegal but I suspect he knew what he was doing. There is a huge misconception that balloons are uncontrollable or they're often 'out of control' – they're usually not.

    It is possible to fly a balloon within 6 inches vertically and keep it flying very steadily at the level you choose. When you learn to fly balloons skimming crops a foot above them is one of the exercises you would practise. This is the art of ballooning. What isn't so predictable is the direction you're going to travel!! That is up to the whims of the wind.

    I'm a hot-air balloon pilot with 13 years experience.

  5. Vince says:

    "They weren’t saying anything to each other – nothing at all. I think it had gone beyond hysteria at that point."

    Not True at all – We were happily chatting and I was taking photos – got some unique shots

  6. Vince says:

    "They weren’t saying anything to each other – nothing at all. I think it had gone beyond hysteria at that point."

    Not True at all – We were happily chatting and I was taking photos – got some unique shots

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