Sixteen killed in Texas hot air balloon tragedy

A hot air balloon carrying 16 people has caught on fire and crashed in Texas, with local authorities saying it "does not appear" that there are any survivors.

"The balloon was occupied and it does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash," Daniel Law, the Caldwell County sheriff, said in a statement. "Investigators are determining the number and the identities of victims at this time."

The crash took place near high-voltage power lines, though authorities have not yet speculated on its cause.

The partial frame of a hot air balloon is visible above a crop field as investigators comb the wreckage of the crash. Photo / AP
The partial frame of a hot air balloon is visible above a crop field as investigators comb the wreckage of the crash. Photo / AP

Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the accident happened shortly after 7:40 am local time Saturday near Lockhart, Texas, when the hot air balloon crashed into a pasture.

While the victims' names have not been released, the pilot has been identified as Skip Nichols of the company Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.

Roads close to the scene have been closed and authorities have set up tents near the crash site.

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 storeys 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 500m from the crash site said she was letting her dog out this 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.

Skip Nichols the Texas balloon pilot killed with 16 passengers when his balloon crashed. Photo / Facebook
Skip Nichols the Texas balloon pilot killed with 16 passengers when his balloon crashed. Photo / Facebook

Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference that the NTSB has deemed it a major accident and a full-bore investigation will begin tomorrow 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.

Lockhart is about 50km south of Austin.

This appears to be the worst hot air balloon disaster since a 2013 crash in Luxor, Egypt that left 19 foreign tourists dead.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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