A bundle of helium balloons may have caused a private twin-engine plane to crash last year, killing the pilot, according to a recent report from federal investigators.
Investigators found pieces of balloons scattered near the crash area, and investigators concluded that the balloons may have been sucked into the plane's engines. They also found that the plane may have been flying too low.
Gordon S. Hansen, a 59-year-old Placentia resident, died in the crash near Brea on Nov. 15. He was the only person in the Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche when it smashed into a hillside just north of Carbon Canyon Road at more than 100 m.p.h.
The crash started a 50-acre brush fire that took 200 firefighters more than three hours to contain. At the crash site, investigators found no evidence of mechanical failure or malfunction.
The report from the National Transportation Safety Board said the pilot was flying too low, hit the free-floating balloons and lost control. The report does not say how low the plane was when it hit the balloons.
Investigator Thomas Wilcox said the balloons may have restricted the airflow in the engines and caused the plane to lose power.
A witness on horseback heard a popping noise and saw what looked like a flare and some confetti fall away from the plane as it rolled and nose-dived, Wilcox said.
"Her statement was so unusual," Wilcox said. "Where the flare was supposed to have landed, there were pink and white balloons. The condition of the balloons was that they had not been there a long time."
Other witnesses either heard or saw the plane moments before it hit the ground.
"I've been up in a airplane and have seen balloons cruising by," said Wilcox. He said crashes caused by balloons are rare.