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Balloon explosion investigation underway

December explosion at World View felt miles away
Posted at 5:59 AM, Feb 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-06 22:05:43-05

TUCSON, Ariz - People heard the boom and felt the shockwave more than a mile away when a hydrogen balloon ruptured at World View Enterprises.

Supervisor Ally Miller called for an investigation found out Tuesday the investigation's already well underway.

Miller has been a real critic of the incentives Pima County gave World View to put it's operations here. She posed a lot of pointed questions and got answers almost right away. 

When the balloon ruptured during an inflation test, people heard it as far as three miles away.

David Urbina heard it at his job on the western edge of the airport. “It sounded like a truck slammed into our building."
The shockwave was enough to knock a few pieces of pottery off the wall at a ceramics shop one and a half miles away.
Supervisor Ally Miller opposed the County incentives that led World View to set up in Pima County in the first place.   
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said it was a worthwhile investment in jobs and that would make the county a profit.
Now, two months after the balloon rupture, Miller complained she hadn't heard of any investigation and asked to start one. 

Huckelberry told her: "An investigation has already been initiated by World View with a board of world class experts in aviation safety.  It's led by an individual by the name of Wayne Hale.  Mr Hale is a former NASA space shuttle program manager responsible for, I think, 40 space shuttle launches and all the safety associated with all those activities."       

Huckelberry told her state workplace safety officials looked into the incident and did not impose any penalties and that insurance will cover any damage.
Worldview’s Chief Technology officer Taber MacCallum says the public has nothing to worry about.

"The measures we've taken to prevent this happening again are well in place and further will be coming from the investigation.  In the way we did it was safe in terms of people driving by and working in the area."

People tend to bring up the Hindenberg disaster anytime someone uses hydrogen for a balloon but Worldview says it can be used safely.  It's not clear how long it will take to complete the investigation in this case.

As for why World View used flammable hydrogen for a lift gas instead of helium,  World View will only say the customer wanted hydrogen.
Helium won't burn because it won't react chemically. But it's so stable you can't create it with a chemical reaction. That makes it more scarce and more expensive.  Hydrogen is much cheaper.  You can extract it from plain water.