Three people may have burned to death or died from injuries suffered in a hot air balloon fire and crash near Richmond, Virginia (VA). The accident occurred on the evening of May 9, 2014, and the people were taking a flight as part of the first-ever Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival being held at Meadow Event Park in Doswell.
Authorities were continuing to search for two of the victims the following morning, and most of the wreckage from the aircraft had not been found. During a press conference, a Virginia State police spokeswoman confirmed one death and acknowledged that it was unlikely the other people onboard had survived. [Update: A second body, that of thepilt, was located and identified on May 10.]
The gondola of the stricken balloon hit a power line as it was attempting a landing during the fesitval's opening ceremonies. Two explosions were heard, and flames were spotted as the gondola separated from the balloon. Witnesses reported hearing screams for help as the gondola dropped out of sight in thick woods.
This terrible, likely fatal crash indicates that no matter how gentle and carefree hot air balloon rides appear, all flights pose risks. This is particularly true when trips into the air occur in areas like public parks rather than airfields. Hazards such as electric transmission lines, groundcover and other aircraft that would be cleared from around airstrips remain in place at alternate sites. In fact, Virginia law does require flyers, amusement operators and other commercial enterprises like businesses and builders to maintain minimum distances from power lines so electrocutions and fires do not occur.
Having helped many people badly injured by fires and electric shocks, my Virginia personal injury and wrongful death law firm colleagues and I know how dangerous power lines can be. We also know the problems that can be caused by pilot error, unsafe landing areas and improperly maintained aircraft. Regardless of what is ultimately be found to have led to this balloon crash in central Virginia, our condolences go out to the victims and their families.