Hot Air Balloon Catches Fire in Virginia, Killing at Least Two
One person is still missing after a hot air balloon caught fire in Virginia on Friday night. During a press conference Saturday morning, Virginia State Police announced that two bodies have been recovered, though the balloon itself is still missing. Rescuers continued their search for the balloon, basket, and missing passenger on Saturday. None of the three passengers' names have been released.
The hot air balloon caught fire during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival near Richmond when it hit a power line on its way to a designated landing site. It was one of three balloons traveling in that direction; the other two landed safely. The balloon's pilot began safety procedures after the initial shock and opened the top of the inflatable to prevent it climbing any farther. Still the fire spread, eventually separating the basket holding passengers and pilot from the balloon itself. Witnesses also reported hearing two explosions before the basket fell about 25 miles north of Richmond.
"They were just screaming for anybody to help them. 'Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help, I'm going to die - oh my God, I'm going to die,'" one witness to the accident told Richmond's NBC 12. She and her daughter both claim to have seen one body fall to the ground. Another witness, who claims to have spotted two falling bodies, doubts there are any survivors. "There was no way these people were coming out of that," he told the same news team.
Seventeen more balloons were set to take off during the festival. In a statement, event organizers said, "The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival regrets that there was a safety incident involving one of the balloons participating on the evening of May 9." According to the statement, the rest of the festival has been canceled, including events slated for Saturday and Sunday.