Recovery is the last element of a HAB launch – finding the payload after the flight! The most important thing to remember during recovery is safety first! Recovering a HAB can be incredibly exciting, especially after the thrill of the launch. Follow your checklists, follow local rules and regulations, and always think through the plan to ensure you are being safe. Remember that once a HAB lands, it is often not going anywhere so you do not have to feel pressure to recover it immediately! Often in dangerous situations, it is better to come back later – many balloons are recovered days or weeks after they have landed. See below for some of our suggestions for achieving a successful HAB recovery! And see here for a tutorial on chasing the HAB before it has landed.
General Balloon Recovery Rules
1. Your HAB does not have to be recovered the minute it lands! You can almost always come back later to recover it if needed.
We cannot stress this enough, but you should not risk your own safety feeling that your balloon must be recovered immediately. Most always, the balloon will not move away from its landing location and if something happens you are not prepared for (e.g. the HAB lands at night and you forgot flashlights or if it lands in a tree and you do not have the necessary equipment to extract it), it is better to leave and develop a new recovery plan to attack in the future. One of our favorite recovery stories (see here for more detail) involved team Balloongineers whose HAB landed in the snowy mountains – rather than attempt a dangerous recovery that day, they tried multiple safer approaches in the following weeks and eventually found and recovered their payload with help from a local helicopter pilot.
2. Never enter an area to recover your HAB that you were not prepared for
HABs can often land in forests, mountains, deserts, or other difficult to access places that you did not originally account for in your planning. If this happen, you should leave to recover all the equipment you need to recover your HAB safely. For example, you shouldn’t venture out into the mountains or desert without a map and GPS to always know where you are so that you do not get lost. You shouldn’t venture into feet of snow without snow gear or attempt any long hike away from your car without water and a way to communicate with the outside world.
3. Never attempt a HAB recovery that you are not prepared for – for example, from trees or telephone wires
HABs will sometimes land in trees or in telephone wires or other difficult to reach places. It can often be tempting to try and perform an immediately recover – climb the tree, use a ladder to reach the telephone wires, etc. However, this is often extremely unsafe and rarely the best plan. Whenever a balloon lands in these kinds of areas, it is often much better to contact local professionals who can help you – many HABers have had their HAB retried by a utility or logging company who can access the tops of trees and telephone wires.
4. Never enter someone else’s property without asking
HABs often land on large tracts of land owned by someone not on the HAB team. It is important to ask the owner of any not public areas before venturing on to their land to recover a HAB. Often owners will be very happy to let you recover your HAB from their land and will often help you do so!
5. Don’t give up hope if you do not initially find your balloon and come back another time to resume the search
It can be extremely disheartening to put all this effort into your HAB and then be unable to find it when it lands. You got signals of it heading into an area, but despite all your searching, cannot locate the final location. It can be extremely tempting to not stop searching after hours and hours or to give up and assume that your HAB is a goner. Instead, leave to go home or back to camp to get some sleep and reassess all the information you have about the payload’s descent. Then return to the landing site on new day, with a fresh set of eyes, and attempt to find your payload again. Often it can help to return with more people to help extend the search area – or to consider a flyover with a drone, helicopter, or small plane as that can help cover a lot of area while you attempt to spot the bright colors of your parachute.
6. Bring safety equipment
This includes a first aid kit, safety vests, flashlights, pocket knives, limb cutters, etc. Safety vests should be worn at all times, especially if you land in the woods! The latter are used in case of a tree landing.