Local News

Alice Springs hot air balloon business fined $130,000 over death of tourist


A hot air balloon company in Alice Springs has been slapped with a hefty fine over the death of a New South Wales tourist.

35-year-old Stephanie Bernoth and her husband were preparing for a balloon ride with eight other passengers in July 2013.

Despite two safety briefings about the hazards of the inflation fan and directions to stand clear of it, the passengers boarded the basket on the same side of the fan, walking straight past it.

Mrs Bernoth, who was the second passenger to board the balloon was killed after her scarf became entangled in the fan’s blades and driveshaft.

NT WorkSafe says the young woman died while on holidays in the NT because the business did not have appropriate systems in place to prevent injury from “a well-known hazard.”

The group charged Outback Ballooning over the death in 2014, which was challenged by the company, sparking a four-year legal battle.

The matter was appealed to the highest court in Australia, with the High Court ruling in favour of NT WorkSafe, reverting the charge back to the Alice Springs Local Court.

Outback Ballooning has now been convicted of breaching Work Health and Safety legislation and fined $130,000.

The NT’s Work Health and Safety Regulator Bill Esteves expressed his condolences to the victim's husband and her family in the Philippines.

“This prolonged legal case has had a big impact on Mr Bernoth’s family and Mrs Bernoth’s family and we hope they find some closure,” Mr Esteves says.

He is also warning businesses to continuously review the risks and not becomecomplacent about safety.

“Businesses must objectively assess risks if employees change or modify a procedure."

“In this case, the crew should have assessed the risk associated with repositioning the balloon’s fan due to a change in the direction of the wind.

“On this occasion, the guard fitted to the fan did not stop Mrs Bernoth’s scarf being drawn into it.

“A risk assessment would have identified this and the crew would have implemented measures to keep passengers at a safe distance from the fan.”’

A portion of the company's fines will go towards creating a series ofprecautions fortourists in Central Australia in various weather conditions.

(Photos: Main - Wouter Hagens via CC-BY-SA- 3.0, Below - NT WorkSafe - air inflation fan)