Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2007 6:29 PM
Subject: Balloon Accidents

Hi Marcie, I just ran across your website today and have read all the comments.  I am saddened by the severe injuries you and Susan Wedge received and I deeply regret that this pathetic Sprague individual has found ways to harm so many folks both physically and financially.  I fully agree with what the professional commercial hot air balloon pilots have shared although the sarcastic tone of one was not called for.  But beyond that, there was a quote by Ms. Wedge that was not justified and I certainly did not care for it:  "We all share your passion in spreading the word as to how truly unsafe & unpredictable hot air ballooning is."

As already indicated by several of your e-mails, all of us do not share these passions and as it has already been clearly and professionally stated, it is not the form of transportation that is unsafe, it is the operator.  But in Ms. Wedges defense, if I had received her injuries, I might have unthoughtedly said something much worse.  I wish that those of you that have been harmed could all join forces and direct your energies towards the main cause of your pain and suffering and that seems to be for the most part, the individual by the name of Steve C. Sprague.  He should be shut down and not the form of transportation he chose to profit by. 

Mr. Sprague seems to be the one with the primary guilt here but from what I have read, the Federal Aviation Administration also shares in the guilt.  I think that any who read this would agree that bureaucracies, businesses, churches, families, etc. all have some bad apples here and there.  Having an FAA accident investigator only asking Mr. Sprague about the accident is like having the fox guard the hen house.  How absurd!  I have dealt with some fine, upstanding, professional FAA personnel and I have dealt with a few total jerks that worked for this agency.  Seems the latter description fits the one who "inspected" this accident and also the one who was later asked about the accident.  Looks to me like these individuals knew little about the applicable Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR's).  If these bimbos (well, they acted like bimbos) had followed the FAR's and done their job in a rightful manner, Mr. Sprague may not have had the opportunity to expose others to his unprofessional ways for at least a period of time. 

Perhaps a few of you who may read this might be wondering about along now what my background is.  I am a 66 year old retired commercial hot air balloon pilot, husband, father of two, and grandfather of six.  I hold the first commercial hot air balloon pilot's certificate issued in Georgia (1972) and was the co-builder and co-owner of the first hot air balloon registered in the state.  I have flown balloons in four countries and 34 states and when I retired from ballooning along about 1985, I had logged over 1500 hours which is far less than the 5000 hours of one of the comment contributors but I flew professionally for a much shorter time.  I am also a fixed winged pilot and have flown sail planes and a Benson Gyrocopter.  I was the number one ranking balloon pilot in the nation for a short period in 1978 and came in 2nd place in the 1978 Hot Air Balloon National Championship that same year and I flew in the World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Sweden in 1979.  I was called in by the FAA on two occasions for questioning basically because the inspectors knew little about balloons and perhaps knew even less about some specific FAR's.  After amicable discussions, no charges were filed.   I must also share that I found the FAA officials to be very helpful concerning matters pertaining to Supplemental Type Certificates (STC's), operational waivers, etc.  Although the "F" stands for Federal, I did run into situations where different geographical offices seemed to have their own interpretations of some of the FAR's which made things difficult as I flew in so many different states.  And oh yes, I was a hot air balloon accident investigator for the Balloon Federation of America in the 80's.  Marcie and Susan, surely God spared your life for a purpose.  If you don't know what it is, try to find out!  Our lives are our gift from God.  What we do with our lives are our gift to God!

There is another problem concerning the overall subject at hand that has not been mentioned in these postings.  I have felt over the years that ballooning has been treated by the FAA to a degree like a bastard child.  Balloon pilots have been required to operate by FAR's written for powered aircraft.  Also, as both a balloon pilot and an airplane pilot, I feel that there are times when it takes more judgment to fly a hot air balloon than it does an airplane.  Yet, the FAA requires less training for a balloon pilot to obtain a commercial rating than it does for a commercial fixed wing pilot rating.  In my opinion, I feel it is too easy for someone to purchase a balloon, rush through a sometimes less than adequate training program and before really being qualified, they are flying passengers for hire in a "unpredictable" aircraft....and yes, some balloons are unsafe for various reasons such as a pilot in his haste to fly, unknowingly purchases an unairworthy balloon and flies it before getting it properly inspected.  One of the contributors of these postings said she paid $12k for a ragged out balloon.  I know the story, in ones excitement to have one of these "huge, colorful, enchanting, attention getting objects", they throw caution and common sense out the window while they might be more prone to take a used car to a reputable garage for inspection before purchase.  Buyer be aware should certainly be applied to an aircraft purchase. 

This has already been basically stated but I'll close by saying we see people injured, maimed, or killed in cars, boats, jet skis, snowmobiles, motorcycles, trains, airplanes, buses, etc, etc, etc, and we do not launch campaigns against these modes of transportation, so why pick on hot air balloons?  Pick on the bad drivers, the bad boat captains, operating any vehicle under the influence and especially pick on bad hot air balloon pilots.  Yes, balloons are unpredictable, that is one of the beauties of ballooning.  Society is so programmed to get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time.  In a balloon, you don't know (exactly) where you are going and you don't know (exactly) when you are going to get there.  But this IS predictable, hit live wires in a balloon and you probably can't say you have had a good day.  Do remember that the balloon envelope did not get out of its bag by itself!!!!

H. Harold Carter
Hot Air Balloon Accidents
Hot Air Balloons
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DEFAULT JUDGMENT AWARDED: $1.5 MILLION
See:  Judgment
Ref:  Cook V. Sprague dba Incredible Journey Balloons, Cause No 2003-cl-00661, in the 288th District Court, Bexar County, Texas.
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From: Brigitte West
Sent: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 08:47 AM
To: marcie@marciecook.com
Subject: Thank you!

Dear Marci,

Thank you so very much for being so brave about taking on a person (and an industry) that is apparently completely unregulated.

My husband left our family 18 months ago and to say the least our life has been hell.  He is completely consumed with himself, and has not thought of thinking of others unless he is getting some benefit out of it.

My children and I have worked very hard to recover from his lies, broken promises, financial bankruptcy, and broken heartedness.  We are coming up on our second year of trying to relieve ourselves of this devastation so I decided this year I would (like last year) find some fun family adventures to share with the children.

Recently a friend paid for tickets for me to take my children and myself on a hot air balloon ride.  You guessed it, the pilot to take us was Steven C. Sprauge.

After looking up the name of his company (in general) on the internet and finding nothing, I had a small red flag go up.  I wanted to surprise my children soon so I started calling his number on the tickets and I never got a person (no matter when I called), just a machine.  I talked to someone about him who said he worked at the airport and was hard to get a hold of.  I continued to have red flags.  Today I decided to get on the internet and dig a little deeper, looking for all kinds of combinations to find out anything about his company and I found your web site by adding, SAN ANTONIO, TX to the search.

I could not believe my eyes, when I saw your pictures, read your story and started looking up other information about this man…..and to think I was about to put my two precious angels in a balloon with him as the pilot…well you can understand I was horrified!

My precious children mean the most to me and I would give up anything for their continued health, safety, and emotional well-being.  If you had not created this web site I would have booked the trip and risked all that I have.

There is no way to truly express my gratefulness to you and to God for saving me and my children a potential disaster.

I pray you continue to heal in all ways, and again, thank you for being so brave.

Brigitte West
======================================
Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 5:15 PM
Subject: hot air balloon scam

This guy Steven took $425 of my money. I wanted to take my son and he took my  money and never followed through. He should be punished. Is there anything I can do????
Thanks ! :)
Samantha Jo Parker

======================================
Sent:  Wednesday, February 07, 2007 11:25 AM
Subject:  Complaint vs. Incredible Journeys/Steve Sprauge

Dear Frank and Marcie,

Thanks very much for your help today regarding this matter, Frank.  And I look forward to hearing from you, Marcie. Thanks in advance.

Following is the information I have re: my case...

I contacted Incredible Journeys' owner Steve Sprague regarding setting up a balloon ride as a gift for my girlfriend for just before Thanksgiving last year and met with him (he drove down in his van w/ his current wife) to give him a check for the total amount as he said that's the only way he works. I was reluctant but didn't see a choice and hadn't gotten any response from the few others who do this in the area. So the bank sent me a statement showing he cashed that check on Nov. 8, 2006, now almost 3 months ago.

We scheduled at least 12-15 times to meet to do the balloon ride in the Seguin area and it was always something, bad weather (even on the nicest days) for flying or overbooked 'flights'; whatever. And I was trying to make it a surprise for her and she has been great about it but it just became less than enjoyable. I know most people (including us) have problems far worse than this but its still not right to be cheated like this, for anyone.

So, I have his info, but no physical address, just a mail drop, the cancelled check copy from my bank (B of A), his cards and tickets for the ride, plus info from the website, email and phone/fax numbers.

Please let me know if there's anything you can do and anything I should be doing. I don't know what recourse we have but this is just not right and I'd hate for anyone else to go through this. The police were of course no help, and having been through small claims court before, we also know that hasnt worked (not to be negative but that's been my experience).

Thank you very much for your time and help.

Sincerely,

Mike Brannon
Lightlink Lighting
www.LightlinkLighting.com
210.414.3695  -  210.824.4194 

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