Jan 17 2017

Crews Injured/Killed in KerBalloon Mission Disaster

It is with heavy hearts that we report the death of KerBalloon launch crew member Thomeny Kerman, who was crushed inside his rover when it was caught up in a landslide en-route to a launch site. Also involved were astronaut Bob Kerman, who suffered serious injuries in the same rover, and two additional launch crew whose rover was also caught up in the slide but not damaged as severely. A nearby airship run by Luftkor Charters received their distress signal and re-routed to assist in evacuating the injured crew back to the KSC medical center. Both Bob and Thomeny arrived to KSC alive although Thomeny passed away shortly after beginning operations to curtail his injuries. Bob was also put on the operating table to stop internal bleeding and seal up a gaping side wound caused by the rover door collapsing inwards and piercing his skin. He also has a broken leg and shoulder, both on the left side. Doctors remain concerned about his internal injuries but he is listed as being in stable condition for the time being. The other two crew members in the second rover were released from the medical center with minor injuries.

We were able to debrief the remaining rover crews, including Bill, to learn what happened. Accounts say that the rovers were navigating a ridge line when the north-facing slope gave way, taking a significant portion of the ridge with it. Estimates of the slide length is about 600-800 meters and it contained many massive boulders which broke loose late in the event after the rovers caught in the slide had already progressed partway down the slope. The boulders crushed both rovers to various degrees, leaving them battered but not buried when they finally came to rest.

One rover appears to be completely totaled, and whether we can rebuild the second one remains questionable. We also lost both the KerBalloon unit and the parachute nose cone, but thankfully the payload in the third unaffected rover remains intact. We’ll be planning a salvage operation to recover the rovers, and Bob will remain in the Intensive Care Unit until doctors are positive his internal injuries are healing properly.

You can read the full mission report here, although updates over the next day or so are to be expected.