Emergency responders in Texas said the fire hit the basket portion of the hot-air balloon.
In a statement emailed to the Guardian, Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said the balloon caught fire in flight at about 7.40am local time. The balloon crashed near Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin.
“It does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash,” Caldwell County sheriff Daniel Law said in a statement provided by his office. A spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety later confirmed that 16 people were dead.
Lunsford said investigators from the FAA and the NTSB were en route to the scene, He declined to give any details about the scene or to hypothesize on how the crash might have happened, saying investigators from the agency as well as local and federal authorities including the FBI’s evidence response team would help analyze the scene.
“This is a normal practice for the NTSB in events that are classified as major accidents, and that’s what this case is,” he said.
Weather experts, victim identification experts and other specialists would come to the scene, Grosof added. “Much like a crime scene, you only get one chance at it so we want to make sure we do everything correctly.”
Sheriff Law told reporters: “We’re just as much at loss as you are trying to sift through the way this thing has come about.”
The NTSB official said that a balloon ride company called Heart of Texas was believed to have run the hot-air balloon. The sheriff said the company did not have a passenger list, to his knowledge.
“When it’s a balloon ride like this anybody can buy tickets,” he said, “anybody can get off.”
The balloon crashed in an area of farmland and open fields of corn crops and cattle, and police held press back at a far distance from the dirt road where emergency vehicles gathered. A line of electrical towers loomed over the site, which was baking under 94F heat and mostly clear skies on Saturday.
Margaret Wiley, a nearby resident who lives not far from the crash site, told the Associated Press 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.
The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, said in a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, as well as the Lockhart community.”
According to National Transportation Safety Board records, before Saturday there were 17 fatal balloon accidents in the US between January 2002 and June 2016, with a total of 21 fatalities. Before Saturday, it appears the worst recorded accident in US ballooning history was in August 1993, when six people died when a sudden gust of wind caused their balloon to collide with a power line near Aspen, Colorado, and the basket was severed and fell to the ground.[ source guardian ]
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