City-based Parekhs and Chhedas narrate their nightmarish experience while on a hot-air balloon ride during a Gujarat trip last month; claim no action has yet been taken by authorities to address the negligence of the pilots 

When two Mumbai-based families decided to take a trip to the white sands of the Rann of Kutch last month, they had no idea that a leisurely hot-air balloon ride would lead to months of unending agony. The incident took place when they had gone to attend the Rann Mahotsav, organised by the Gujarat Tourism department from December 9 to January 8. The families, recuperating from the injuries sustained during the accident, claim that though it's been a month since the mishap took place, no action has been taken to address the inefficiency shown by the balloon handlers and organisers.   

Grounded: After their pilots abandoned the boat without turning the
balloon's burner off, the passengers had to conduct the landing themselves.
It will take Naresh and Ramila Chheda, both doctors, at least three months
to recover fully from the injuries they sustained in the crash. The families
claim that their professional lives will suffer greatly

MiD DAY spoke to the two families -- Parekhs and Chhedas, residents of Haji Ali and Virar respectively. The families claimed that on January 1, 15 people -- along with two pilots -- boarded the hot-air balloon for what was called a 'Tiger Balloon safari'.
The families claimed that the handlers pushed the limits of the balloon's capacity by allowing 17 people -- including the two pilots -- to board it, even though only 12 persons are permitted on a single basket. Taking note of this, Bharti Parekh even alerted the pilot about the overloading, but the pilot allegedly ignored her.

High drama
The ride started at around 8 am. As the balloon was about to touch down, the pilot and co-pilot jumped off the basket. In their hurry, they allegedly forgot to turn off the burner, causing the balloon to soar back into the sky. "We were soaring at a height of 300 feet and were totally helpless. No one in the balloon knew anything about the techniques of handling the balloon. I had observed that the pilot pulled one of the strings to make the landing. However, my brother-in-law Dr Naresh Chheda suggested that we first switch off the burner and then pull the string to land the balloon. As soon as we did this, the balloon started hurtling down at high speed and tilted on one side, causing all the passengers to tumble out in a heap. As the balloon had landed in a remote area, no quick first-aid was available," said Nagin Parekh.

While Nagin fractured both ankles, his wife Bharti sustained burns on her right hand and hair from the flames. The Chhedas, both doctors, are also laid up with grievous injuries - Naresh sustained multiple fractures in his spine and shoulder, while Ramila fractured four ribs and her left collarbone. Their children also suffered minor injuries.

Nagin and Naresh said, "This ride has wasted our precious and valuable time. It will take us at least three months to recover from the injuries we sustained and our professional lives will suffer."

The Parekhs and Chhedas have also claimed that the medical and first-aid facilities were poor and that ambulance services weren't available when they needed it.

The Other Side
Officials from Gujarat Tourism stated that they have been doing everything possible for the victims. "Investigations on the Tiger Balloon safari are being conducted and we will have the findings soon," said Nirav Munshi, manager, Gujarat Tourism. He also assured that the complaints of the victims would be forwarded to the Tiger Balloon firm.