On Friday night people at a festival preview event in Virginia witnessed a hot air balloon hit a live wire and catch on fire. After the pilot fought to control the fire and the others screamed for help, the people on board went down with the gondola, leaving two dead and one person still missing.
The hot air balloon was launched as part of a special celebration to kick off the weekend’s annual festival, the Mid- Atlantic Balloon Festival. Once in the air, however, there was a freak accident in which the balloon hit a live wire and caught on fire. The pilot attempted to contain the fire, but it got more out of control as the balloon continued to climb into the sky.
Witnesses were horrified as the watched the event unfold before them, yet they were unable to help, aside from calling 911. They reported seeing the balloon engulfed in orange flames. They also heard the people on board screaming for anybody to help them and saying, “Oh my God, I’m going to die.” Then there was an explosion and the balloon blew up. At that point the gondola was separated from it and bodies were seen falling from it. Police got the call about the incident just before 8 p.m.
At first it was unclear if the people had jumped or fallen from the gondola in a plan to escape the fire. One body was found late Friday night. A ground search ensued in the nearby woods and a second was found on Saturday morning in the woods near Bagdad, VA, nearly 30 miles north of Richmond. The search continues for the third person that was on board , as well as the remains of the hot air balloon, which have not yet been found. Only pieces of debris from the hot air balloon have been recovered.
The search for the remaining person has officially been switched from a rescue mission to a recovery effort, which includes about 100 first responders. The Virginia State Police have combined their efforts with the Caroline County Fire and Rescue, the sheriff’s office, and the Henrico County Police. The Federal Aviation Administration is also expected to help the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in investigating the incident.
Hot air balloons are not particularly dangerous. Last year, an air safely expert, Carl Holden, told USA Today that people have ridden safely in hot air balloons since 1783. In fact, according to the NTSB, of the 775 incidents on record in the U.S., they have only resulted in 70 fatalities, and only 16 of those occurred between 2002 and 2012. Hitting a live wire that causes the balloon to catch on fire is usually the reason for the accidents.
The hot air balloon festival has been canceled in Virginia this weekend in light of the horrifying incident. The Meadow Event Park staff has expressed their sympathy for the victims and their families. Authorities have not yet released the names of the people involved in the accident.
By Tracy Rose