‘Number of fatalities’ in Texas balloon crash; toll unclear

Police cars block access to the site where a hot air balloon crashed early Saturday, July 30, 2016, near Lockhart, Texas. At least 16 people were on board the balloon, which Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said caught fire before crashing into a pasture shortly after 7:40 a.m. Saturday near Lockhart. No one appeared to survive the crash, authorities said. (AP Photo/James Vertuno)


LOCKHART, Texas (AP) — A hot air balloon carrying at least 16 people caught on fire and crashed in Central Texas on Saturday, and there did not appear to be any survivors, authorities said.

Authorities would not confirm the exact number of deaths, but Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration said the balloon was carrying at least 16 people and the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it didn’t look like anyone survived.

If 16 people were killed, it would be the one of the worst such disasters, possibly the worst in U.S. history. The deadliest such disaster happened in February 2013, when a balloon flying over Luxor, Egypt, caught fire and plunged 1,000 feet to the ground, crashing into a sugar cane field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists

Saturday’s crash happened at about 7:40 a.m. in a pasture near Lockhart, which is about 30 miles south of Austin.

Authorities have not said where the hot air balloon was based out of or which company was flying it, though Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel C. Law told The Associated Press that it’s the kind of situation where people can walk up and buy a ticket, unlike an airplane, which would have a list of names.

The land near the crash site is mostly farmland, with corn crops and grazing cattle. Cutting through that farmland is a row of massive high-capacity transmission lines about 4 to 5 stories tall. The site of the crash appears to be right below the overhead lines, though authorities haven’t provided further details about what happened.

Margaret Wylie lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site and told the AP that she was letting her dog out Saturday morning when she heard a “pop, pop, pop.”

“I looked around and it was like a fireball going up,” she said, noting that the fireball was located under large power lines and almost high enough to reach the bottom of them.

Wylie, who called 911, said the weather seemed clear and that she frequently sees hot air balloons in the area.

Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference that the agency has deemed it a major accident and a full-bore investigation will begin Sunday when more federal officials arrive.

Robert Sumwalt, who will head the NTSB’s crash investigation team, said he was studying the board’s recommendations to the FAA based on previous hot air balloon crashes. Sumwalt, who spoke to the AP while waiting to board a plane to Texas, said the team was still trying to gather basic information about the accident.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked in a statement for “all of Texas to join us in praying for those lost.”

Lockhart is about 30 miles south of Austin.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

WTNH NEWS8 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Also, you can now block any inappropriate user by simple selecting the drop down menu on the right of any comment and selection "Block User" from there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s