News & Politics

Texas Hot Air Balloon Crash Second Most Deadly in Aviation History

Investigators surround the scene near Lockhart, Texas where a hot air balloon crashed (Ralph Barrera/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

FAA investigators say that a hot air balloon carrying 16 passengers crashed in a pasture near Lockhart, Texas, at around 7:40 a.m. Saturday. A representative from the Caldwell County Sheriff’s office said that “it does not appear at this time that there were any survivors.” If true, it would make this the second most deadly hot air balloon crash in aviation history.

Erik Grosof from the National Transportation Safety Board would not confirm the number of fatalities in an afternoon press conference, only saying that there are a “number of fatalities” and there is a “significant loss of life.” The identities of the deceased have not yet been released.

Grosof said his team is “performing a stake-down” at the scene until other investigators can arrive, including members of the FBI’s Evidence Response Team. The crash has been classified as a “major accident,” which automatically triggers a federal response, he said.

“It’s much like a crime scene, you only get one chance at it, so we want to make sure we do everything correctly,” Grosof said.

Margaret Wylie lives near the crash scene and described a “whooshing” sound. “And then just a big ball of fire up and I’d say it probably got up as high as those lower electric lines,” she said, adding that she also heard “popping.” She told reporters that the balloon’s chase crew arrived well after the crash. She flagged them down on the road to let them know that police were blocking the road up ahead. (You may need to click through to Periscope to view the video.)

There was video making the rounds on Twitter most of the day purportedly showing the crash scene, but it was evidently not footage of today’s hot air balloon tragedy. In fact, the landscape is different from the area where the crash took place.

The area was described by the Star-Telegram as “mostly farmland, with corn crops and grazing cattle.” There is also a “row of massive high-capacity transmission lines about 4 to 5 stories tall,” as you can see in the video below from a local reporter.

Next page: Other deadly hot air balloon crashes in the U.S. and elsewhere.  The BBC has aerial footage of the crash scene here.  Investigators have not commented on whether or not the hot air balloon came into contact with the power lines. Texas Governor Greg Abbott quickly tweeted out his condolences to the families of the victims:   

The deadliest hot air balloon accident in history was the 2013 crash in Luxor, Egypt, that killed 21 people when it caught on fire just a few meters off the ground as it was attempting to land. Prior to that, the crash with the most fatalities was the Alice Springs crash in Australia’s Northern Territory in 1989 that killed thirteen people when two balloons collided, causing one to crash to the ground. In January, 2012 in Carterton, New Zealand, a balloon collided with a high voltage power line, caught on fire, and disintegrated, killing all 11 people on board.

Here are some other notable crashes from a report compiled by Travel Law Quarterly: