Ausnew Home Care | First fully accessible hot air balloon in NSW takes to sky above Hunter Valley

First fully accessible hot air balloon in NSW takes to sky above Hunter Valley

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The pre-sunrise fog on the Hunter Valley horizon did not stop the launch of New South Wales' first fully accessible hot air balloon, with its first guest dubbing it "a life changer".

Vietnam veteran and Maitland local David Le Brocque, who became a quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident in northern NSW in 2011, was the first official flyer.

"It was spectacular, it'll be a memory that I won't forget for a long time," he said.

"There's a lot of people in my situation that would dearly like to do this sort of thing.

"If I can do it, anybody can do it, they just need a little gentle push to have a go."

The balloon's basket was designed by Australian manufacturer Kavanagh Balloons, with funding help from the NSW government and Cessnock City Council.

It includes bench seating with variable height and cushioning features, a custom access gate, and adjustable harnesses.

A man in a wheelchair smiles at the camera, while three women (his carers) stand behind him, smiling.
David LeBrocque with his support workers Kathryn Petry, Trish Cairns and Cheryl Davis.(ABC Newcastle: Bridget Murphy)

Paralympian and Parliamentary Secretary for Disability Inclusion and Gosford MP, Liesl Tesch, was also on board the maiden flight.

She said it was "absolutely magical".

"Words can't describe the silence up there, the enormity of the view," she said.

"It was dignified and easy for me to get in there as well.

"Usually getting out of your wheelchair, or whatever it is, can come with a lack of dignity ... but this was so dignified and supportive."

the inside of a hot air balloon featuring bench seating for those with a disability
Bench seating in the hot air balloon is adjustable, and sits in front of a lower access gate.(ABC Newcastle: Bridget Murphy)

'Dream' achieved

Cessnock Mayor Jay Suvaal joined the flight with Mr Le Brocque and Ms Tesch.

It also happened to be his first time in a balloon over the region.

"It was important for [council] to make sure we have one of these accessible balloons in our region," he said.

"We have this amazing, beautiful region that lots of people come here to see and we want to make sure everyone gets the same opportunity."

Hot air balloons float in the distance above vineyards in NSW.
Hot air ballooning above the Hunter Valley's famous vineyards is a tourism drawcard for the region.(ABC Newcastle: Bridget Murphy)

Pilot Matt Scaife is the director of Balloon Aloft, the tourism group that runs the flights.

He said the idea of an accessible balloon had been a goal for the company for around 15 years.

"We needed funding, really, to be able to do it. It's an expensive project for a small business to be able to take on," he said.

"With [the funding help] we've been able to live out that dream."

He said he would never tire of seeing the reactions of first-time flyers.

"It's sort of like a magic carpet ride, flying along in the balloon, watching the kangaroos jumping, the mountains, the clouds," he said.

a man and a woman sitting in a hot air balloon basket that has landed
Vietnam veteran David Le Brocque and Gosford MP Leisl Tesch were the first two wheelchair users to take to the skies of the Hunter.(ABC Newcastle: Bridget Murphy)

Ms Tesch said she hoped it would inspire other tourism operators to make accessibility front of mind.

"Our choice is to participate equally in communities, so let's get going and make sure that we do think a little more about inclusion," she said.

"Opening the door for us is opening the door for the whole of society so let's make it inclusive for everybody."

Source: ABC

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