The state’s first wheelchair accessible hot air balloon experience has taken flight in the Hunter Valley.
Australian balloon manufacturer Kavanagh Balloons designed and built the wheelchair accessible balloon that has a door and cushioned seating with restraints and a multi-point harness.
The balloon is the first of its kind in NSW and will be operated by Balloon Aloft in Pokolbin with the support of Cessnock Council and the NSW Government.
Hunter Valley local and Vietnam veteran David LeBrocque, who was onboard the official first flight this week, has a history of adrenaline fuelled adventures, including skydiving, bungee jumping and joy flights.
In 2011 the self-confessed daredevil was riding with friends in Northern NSW when his motorbike hit rough terrain.
“There’s an old saying with motorbikes, where you look is where you go, and I ran off the side of the road and I knew straight away I’d hurt my spine – I was driven by ambulance to Newcastle and then by helicopter to Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney,
“I was on a ventilator unable to breathe independently for three months however, I knew if anyone could dig themselves out of a hole it would be me, and a week later I had managed to get myself off the ventilator to begin my recovery back home in Maitland.
“I know this opportunity will open up avenues for other adaptive adventure seekers out there, and for them to see a person with a disability like mine do this and know they are able experience the same thing is very exciting.
“It will be a memory of mine until I die.”
Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Inclusion Liesl Tesch said it was a proud moment to be part of the state’s first accessible balloon flight.
“Dignified and equitable tourism experiences benefit the individual and also their support networks, who will now be able to share an unforgettable experience together, and that will go a long way in making life more inclusive for people with disability in NSW.
“Too often, people with disability miss out on the joys of tourism and I am thrilled to see more equitable experiences across our regions.”
Australian balloon manufacturer Sean Kavanagh of Kavanagh Balloons said designing and building the state’s first accessible balloon basket has been both a challenge and a privilege.
“The biggest challenge was ensuring we could engineer a wheelchair accessible balloon basket that was safe, so we locally designed and built a basket with a door and cushioned seating with restraint systems and a multi-point harness,” Mr Kavanagh said.
Pilot and General Manager Matthew Scaife said Balloon Aloft, which has been based in the Hunter Valley for 43 years, is excited to be launching a tourism experience that will enable people with limited mobility to experience the thrill of hot air ballooning.
“We believe everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy this amazing experience and our new balloon will make that possible for more people than ever before and it’s wonderful to see this come to fruition with the launch of our Hunter Valley Accessible Balloon Flights.”