Quebec provincial police and the Transportation Safety Board are investigating the Sunday morning incident at the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu International Hot Air Balloon Festival, and have released few details about circumstances surrounding the death of Maxime Trépanier.
Quebec provincial police told Radio-Canada that their initial investigation showed that Trépanier was trying to help another team land a balloon when he got into trouble.
For some reason, the balloon went back up, taking Trépanier with it. He then fell from an undisclosed height.
Police said they don't believe the death was criminal.
Friends of Trépanier said he was an experienced pilot and had been around hot air balloons all of his life. They said the routine procedure wasn't risky, and it appears it was just a freak accident.
“The balloon was too fast, and Maxime grabbed the line, and then the pilot decided to go up because it was unsuitable to land and probably Maxime was tangled up in that rope and he went away with the line,” said Leo Burman, a pilot and instructor who taught Trépanier.
The son of a pilot himself, Trépanier had two children of his own and was a firefighter.
“His parents were flying [for] about 25 years or more …, so he was acquainted to all the operations of ballooning, and he was a good pilot and he was known as a talented pilot,” Burman said.
His colleagues from the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu fire department were at the festival last night as pilots, friends and family members paid tribute to Trépanier by lighting up their balloons in unison.
Marie-Claude Bovet, the festival's marketing and development director, said Trépanier would have wanted the festival to go on, but a decision was made to ground the balloons last night.
An autopsy is scheduled to take place today in Montreal.
The annual festival, which attracts around 450,000 people a year, continues until Aug. 18.
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