Hot air balloon crash kills five in New Mexico

·2-min read
Scene as hot air balloon crashes in Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP)
Scene as hot air balloon crashes in Albuquerque, New Mexico (AP)

Five people including two women have been killed after a hot air balloon hit a power line in New Mexico.

Witnesses described seeing the multi-coloured balloon fall 100ft to the ground in a completely deflated state on Saturday.

The passengers’ basket detached and then crashed on a street before catching fire at 7am (1pm GMT), according to Albuquerque’s police department.

The incident cut off power to more than 13,000 people in the area.

No identities have been released but fire officials said three men, including the pilot, and two females died.

Four were pronounced dead at the scene and the fifth after being taken to hospital in a critical condition, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos confirmed.

Mr Gallegos said the balloon skirted the top of the power lines, sending at least one of them dangling.

Hot air balloon envelope falls from the sky in Albuquerque (AP)
Hot air balloon envelope falls from the sky in Albuquerque (AP)

Passers-by frantically called out for a fire extinguisher to put out the flames and prayed aloud in footage posted online.

Joshua Perez, who heard the crash, rushed to the scene with another man and helped turn off the propane tank.

Mr Perez told KOB4 News that those inside the basket were not moving, adding: “To see a balloon go down like this, it’s heart-breaking.”

The cause of the accident is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB sent two investigators to the scene on Saturday who will examine the pilot, the balloon itself and the operating environment, said spokesman Peter Knudson. A preliminary report typically is available in a couple of weeks.

Mr Gallegos said hot air balloons can be difficult to manage, particularly in windy conditions.

“Our balloonists tend to be very much experts at navigating, but sometimes we have these types of tragic accidents,” he said.

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Albuquerque is a mecca for hot air ballooning. The city hosts a nine-day event in October that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators and pilots from around the world. It is one of the most photographed events globally.

Albuquerque residents are treated to colourful displays of balloons floating over homes and along the Rio Grande throughout the year.

While accidents aren’t common, they happen.

Since 2008, there have been 12 fatal hot air ballooning accidents in the United States, according to an NTSB database.

Two of those happed in Rio Rancho, just outside Albuquerque in 2008 and in January of this year.

The deadliest balloon crash in the US killed 16 people in 2016 in Texas. It led the FAA to take steps to try to increase the safety of hot air balloon tourism.

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