Latest News

Back to Latest News back


High Court rules balloon operator can face charges over rider death

High Court rules balloon operator can face charges over rider death
February 25, 2019

The High Court has ruled that Central Australian hot air balloon operator Outback Ballooning can be prosecuted under Northern Territory laws over the death of a woman guest in 2013.

Sydney woman Stephanie Bernoth, aged 35, was fatally injured when her scarf was sucked into the inflation fan as she was boarding the balloon for a sunrise flight near Alice Springs.

Passengers had reportedly been advised to wear beanies, scarfs and gloves, because it could be chilly at that time of day. Stephanie Bernoth wore a long scarf, wrapped twice around her neck, tied loosely at the front.

With the fan inflating the balloon, as she followed three others in approaching the basket, she passed by the inflation fan. The long lightweight tassels on her scarf were sucked into the inflation fan, causing her to be dragged towards the metal guard around the fan. The scarf was pulled tightly around her neck as it became entangled in the fan.

She later died in Alice Springs Hospital from the injuries sustained.

Following her death Northern Territory authorities were blocked from charging the company over the fatality by the courts, which found any alleged offence was not covered by local law but rather governed by Commonwealth safety laws.

However, the High Court allowed an appeal by the Northern Territory Work Health Authority (NTWHA) that they should be allowed to pursue charges the company failed its duty of care.

The High Court ruling marked the latest chapter in a long and complex legal tussle which has continued intermittently since Stephanie Bernoth's death.

Outback Ballooning, which was bought by pilot Jason Livingston just days before the tragic incident, has faced litigation over the matter in both the Northern Territory Local and Supreme Courts, before the deliberation finally made its way to Canberra's High Court in 2018.

In 2014, the NTWHA took the matter to court, accusing Outback Ballooning Pty Ltd of failing to comply with its duty under the Work Health Safety Act.

It said the company did not adequately warn passengers about loose clothing, scarves and long hair; nor ensure those hazards were eliminated while boarding the balloon.

It also alleged the company had failed to isolate the inflation fan by setting up an exclusion zone or barrier.

A 2015 Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) report into the fatality found the mesh and steel tubing guard around the inflation fan's blades was ineffective.

In 2015, Judge David Bamber dismissed the Northern Territory Work Health Authority complaint as "invalid", saying the matter was a Commonwealth issue.

The NTWHA challenged that decision in the Supreme Court, contending that Commonwealth aviation regulations did not relate to the safe use of equipment, such as inflation fans.

Justice Bamber's order was then overturned, and the matter listed once more for Local Court.

While Outback Ballooning successfully appealed this, the NTWHA pursued the matter, and it was listed for the High Court to determine its validity.

Tourism lawyer Anthony J Cordato has suggested that the balloon operator is now liable for a fine of up to $1,500,000, advising “this is in addition to its civil liability to compensate Ms Bernoth’s estate for her death.”

Cordato also stated “the moral is - don’t wear a scarf on a hot air balloon flight unless the tassels are completely tucked in because it puts the passenger at risk of injury or death and the operator at risk of a large fine.”

Images: Outback Ballooning (top, courtesy of TripAdvisor), Stephanie Bernoth (middle) and an image believed to show the actual balloon as it started to inflate. Note how closely the fan is positioned to the basket (below).

Related Articles

19th February 2019 - Inquest into child drag racer’s death at Perth Motorplex told sport had ‘almost flippant attitude’ to safety

15th February 2019 - Child dies at Darwin City Council playground

10th November 2018 - Inquest told German tourists may have been dead at Trephina Gorge before alarm was raised

19th October 2018 - Dreamworld manager denies obstructing Queensland Police investigation during emotional Coronial inquiry testimony

7th August 2018 - Australian tourism operator fined $3 million for manipulating TripAdvisor Reviews

31st March 2018 - Balloon operator criticised for not alerting emergency services after incident injures nine people

27th August 2017 - Dreamworld tragedy highlights legal duty of care for theme park guests

7th October 2015 - Inquest into Kings Canyon cliff death hears safety training ‘non-existent’

19th May 2015 - Perisher Blue escapes liability for skier’s injury but needs a new disclaimer

1st August 2014 - Balloon crash pilot ‘too high’ too fly

21st January 2014 - Balloon flights proposed as safe alternative to climbing Uluru

7th January 2012 - 11 killed in North Island hot-air balloon crash

Asking a small favour
We hope that you value the news that we publish so while you're here can we ask for your support?

The news we publish at is independent, credible (we hope) and free for you to access, with no pay walls and no annoying pop-up ads.

However, as an independent publisher, can we ask for you to support us by subscribing to the printed Australasian Leisure Management magazine - if you don't already do so.

Published bi-monthly since 1997, the printed Australasian Leisure Management differs from this website in that it publishes longer, in-depth and analytical features covering aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues management.

Subscriptions cost just $90 a year.

Click here to subscribe.


supplier directory

The Complete Guide to Leisure Industry Products & Services.

See the directory see all

The Jump Pad

The Jump Pad is a safe, flat inflatable made in a variety of sizes which can be used indoor or outdoor. From 3mx3m up to a whopping 9mx21m. Markets include Indoor and outdoor playgrounds, schools,…

read more

Attractions / Entertainment / Play



As of 2018, TicketServ operates as SeatGeek Asia Pacific Pty Limited, part of international ticketing platform SeatGeek. Click here to contact SeatGeek Asia Pacific via their entry in…

read more

Attractions / Entertainment / Events / Sport / Ticketing


Worldwide Sports Management

Principal Consultant Simon Weatherill has spent the last 20 years developing the world renowned Melbourne Sports Hub, as former Chief Executive Officer of the State Sports Centres Trust…

read more

Aquatics / Consultants / Recreation / Sport / Venues



Developed in Europe, this innovative system offers a safety management solution for swimming pools that checks individual swimmers via their wristband - monitoring their depth and time. Sensors…

read more

Aquatics / Hospitality / Safety / Technology / Waterparks


Anti Wave International

Anti Wave International is the original suppliers of top performance swim, aquatic sports, leisure and pool programming equipment. Founded in 1971, Anti Wave International is proud of its…

read more

Aquatics / Play / Sport


Tim Batt Water Solutions

Tim Batt Water Solutions are at the very forefront of the commercial aquatic business in Australia, with over 30 years specific experience supplying and installing chemical control and dosing…

read more

Aquatics / Environment / Recreation / Technology / Venues



Gladstone Health & Leisure (Gladstone MRM Pty Ltd Australia) is a leading supplier of leisure management and fitness software and is endorsed by leading health and fitness professionals and…

read more

Access / Billing / Fitness / Technology / Venues



Technogym is the leading company in the Wellness and Fitness field all over the world. With 2,200 employees, 14 branches in Europe, U.S., South America, Asia  and Australia, Technogym exports its…

read more

Fitness / Technology / Wellness


get listed with our suppliers directory

Get your business noticed in our targeted directory. Viewed by 10,000 industry professionals per week!

list your business