What Caused The Hot Air Balloon Crash?

by Lauren Barbato

A hot air balloon carrying at least 16 people crashed Saturday morning near Lockhart, Texas. All of the passengers are presumed dead, according to local authorities. Now, investigators are now trying to figure out what caused the hot air balloon to crash near an empty road in this rural Texas area.

Sheriff Daniel Law of Caldwell County said in a statement Saturday that first responders were called to the scene around 7:45 a.m., expecting a motor vehicle accident. Instead, they found a downed hot air balloon with the basket — where the passengers stay during the flight — on fire. "The balloon was occupied and it does not appear at this time that there are any survivors," Law said.

The Caldwell County Sheriff's Office turned the scene over to the Department of Public Safety. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are handling the investigation.

The cause of the crash is still unconfirmed at this time, but there's a possibility the hot air balloon struck one of the high-voltage power lines in the area. According to USA Today, the downed balloon was found underneath some of the power lines, which stretch across the area.

At a news conference Saturday afternoon, Erik Grosof the NTSB said a comprehensive investigation will be launched on Sunday. Grosof did not provide a cause of the crash.

Grosof added that there was a "significant loss of life." The names and ages of the victims have yet to be released.

There have been several eyewitness accounts about smoke and fire in the air, leading to speculation that the hot air balloon caught fire during flight. According to the Associated Press, a woman who lives in the area said she heard a popping noise and saw what looked like a fireball soaring through the sky. “I looked around and it was like a fireball going up," the resident, Margaret Wiley, told the news source.

At least one witness also saw smoke stream out of an object ensnared in the power lines prior to the crash, The Telegraph reported. The power lines are numerous in the area. Other residents reported that the weather was clear Saturday morning, with no rain and very little wind. Neither FAA nor NTSB officials have commented on weather being a possible factor in the deadly crash.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement posted to Twitter that the "investigation into the cause of this tragic accident will continue." He asked all Texans to "join us in praying for those lost."