Barrington Hills, IL Air Balloon Crash Kills Five, Aug 1981


Five people were killed and a sixth was critically injured in a fiery crash Saturday night when a birthday trip in a hot-air balloon ended in tragedy after the balloon smashed into high-voltage power lines in Barrington Hills and exploded in flames.
The lone survivor jumped from the balloon and landed on the median strip of Route 14 at Kelsey Road after a fall of as much as 100 feet, Lake County Sheriff's police said. HARRY EVANS, 29, of De Land, Fla., was in critical but stable condition in the burn unit of Evanston Hospital with burns over 25 percent of his body.
Authorities identified three victims pronounced dead at the scene of the 6:50 p.m. crash as pilot JAMES BICKET, 26, of Fox River Grove; BRIAN BAKER, age unknown, of McHenry; and WILLIAM KEATING, 24, of west suburban Forest Park.
Another victim, KENNETH COLEMAN, 35, of Kissimmee, Fla., was pronounced dead on arrival at Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, a hospital spokeswoman said. TERRY RITTER, age unknown, of Cary, died of third and fourth degree burns over 90 percent of his body shortly after being admitted, she said.
KEATING'S father-in-law, BRUCE CARSON of River Forest, said KEATING was riding in the balloon as a belated birthday present. CARSON said KEATING'S birthday was July 24, but the balloon trip was put off because of poor weather.
The group left from the Windycity Balloonport Ltd. in Fox River Grove.
Witnesses said it appeared the pilot was trying to bring the balloon down because a storm was developing.
"It looked like he was trying to land, and a gust of wind came up and started to drag them toward the high-tension wires," said ARTHUR CARLSON, owner of the Kelsey Road House Restaurant, which was closed all evening after the accident because of a resulting power outage.
The balloon first was in difficulty just north of the village limits of Barrington Hills, said Sgt. JIM CHRISTOPHERSEN of the Lake County Sheriff's Police. As it approached the power lines and utility pole at Route 14 and Kelsey Road, it started to go down and then lifted up and crashed into either the power lines or the top of the utility pole, which was broken, he said.
"It's uncertain at this point whether it (balloon) was on fire prior to hitting the pole or after," he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration was on the scene late Saturday investigating.
Police and witnesses give this description:
When the balloon hit the pole, EVANS leaped out, falling nearly 100 feet to the median. The balloon continued south. A second occupant jumped out, landing in a field. He was dead at the scene.
By this time, the balloon had drifted nearly 1,000 feet from the utility pole, officials said.
Then, a third person jumped out, crashing through the roof of a house on Plum Tree Road. A few feet away, the basket hit ground. At least one of the five propane tanks on board exploded, and intense heat kept passersby from helping the three passengers still on board. They were burned beyond recognition, police said.

Daily Herald Chicago Illinois 1981-08-16


1981 Illinois Air Disaster/Barrington Hills

My husband and I along with additional family members were just pulling into the parking lot of Kelsey's Roadhouse the night of this disaster and witnessed the whole thing. It appeared to us that the operator of the hot air balloon was attempting to land it in the Kelsey's parking lot and lost control due to the "HIGH" winds. It was horrible to witness; have never forgotten those images even though it's been 32 years since that occurred !!!!

The crash of the Hot Air Balloon

Was part of the group that meet in FRG for Balloon flights. Heard of this and talked to another pilot about it. He said that there was a storm front appoaching, that is why he stayed home... Money brings out the evil in people, taking chances when they should know better... As a side note, rather grim, the owner of the house that the man hit, put a skylight in...... House is not been replaced with a bigger one... I knew the pilot and wish he would have used common sense, postpone is something they don't like to do..