At Least 3 unaccounted for after balloon Fire in Virginia

At least three people are unaccounted for after a hot air balloon struck a power line and caught fire Friday evening at the Meadow Event Park on the eve of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival.

Shortly before 8 p.m. on May 9, a hot air balloon struck a power line and caught fire before ascending high into the air. Sources at the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office say some saw passengers jumping from the balloon.

Virginia State Police held a press conference at 10 p.m. on Friday. According to VSP spokeswoman Corrinne Geller, there was a pilot and possibly two passengers aboard the balloon. The wreck has not yet been found, and no injuries or deaths have been confirmed.

“Multiple troopers, deputies … will continue through the night until we find the wreckage,” Geller said, adding that police are looking at two possible wreckage sites.

The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival at the Meadow was scheduled to take place at the park on Saturday and Sunday. The Virginia Farm Bureau has canceled the event in the wake of the accident in the following statement:

“The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival regrets that there was a safety incident involving one of the balloons participating on the evening of May 9. Virginia State Police and local officials are on-site and trained for any emergency. Emergency officials responded to the incident. According to VSP, a balloon caught fire and crashed northeast of the Meadow Event Park. No wreckage has been found yet, and there are no confirmed injuries or fatalities. However, the pilot and at least two passengers are missing. A ground search is currently under way involving VSP, the Federal Aviation Administration as well as Caroline and Henrico County law enforcement and EMS personnel. State Police report that bad weather elsewhere in the Richmond vicinity has grounded air search for the time being. A balloon festival spokesman said the remainder of the event has been canceled. Details regarding advance ticket purchases for Saturday’s and Sunday’s events will be announced soon.”

ABC 8News Digital Content Producer Lindsey Leake spoke with Dawn Howeth, a photographer from Tappahannock, who witnessed the flaming balloon. She was there to see the balloon glow, where patrons gather to see the balloons lit up from the inside. She says only 1,500 tickets were available for the VIP event. Howeth said the balloons went north, up into the air, and were supposed to come back down. One didn’t.

The ill-fated balloon prepares for flight on Friday evening at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival

The ill-fated balloon prepares for flight on Friday evening at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival

“All of a sudden, we could see a balloon rise up that was obviously on fire,” Howeth said. “We watched something large fall from it, assuming it was the basket. There were three people in it when it took off.”

Howeth says a friend in the Caroline County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management told her the basket had been located–without a trace of the passengers. Virginia State Police have not confirmed that the basket has been located.

“It was awful … on fire going farther and farther away,” Howeth said. “I can’t tell you how high up it was, but it was a good distance away.”

Howeth says she’s glad she didn’t have her zoom lens on hand when she witnessed the tragedy.

“Part of me wishes I had a zoom lens on, the other part of me is glad I didnt,” she said. “What I saw is bad enough in my mind.”

ABC 8News Reporter Claudia Rupcich spoke with Cole Holocker, who also witnessed the incident. He told her he felt helpless watching flames and smoke envelop the balloon.

DID YOU WITNESS THE BALLOON IN DISTRESS? Virginia State Police want to speak with anyone who may have seen the balloon on fire near the Caroline Pines subdivision. Call (804) 994-5754 with any information.

via – WRBL.