Authorities would not confirm the exact number of deaths, but Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration said the balloon was carrying at least 16 people and the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it didn’t look like anyone survived.
If 16 people were killed, it would be the one of the worst such disasters, possibly the worst in US history. The deadliest such disaster happened in February 2013, when a balloon flying over Luxor, Egypt caught fire and plunged 1,000 feet to the ground, crashing into a sugar cane field and killing at least 19 foreign tourists.
Saturday’s crash happened at about 7:40 a.m. in a pasture near Lockhart, which is about 30 miles south of Austin. The land near the crash site is mostly farm land, with corn crops and grazing cattle.
Cutting through that farmland is a row of massive high-capacity electrical transmission lines about four to five stories tall. The site of the crash appears to be right below the overhead lines, though authorities haven’t provided further details about what happened.
Aerial photos showed an area of charred pasture underneath power lines.
Margaret Wylie lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site and told The Associated Press that she was letting her dog out Saturday 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 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.
Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference that the agency has deemed it a major accident and a full-bore investigation will begin Sunday when more federal officials arrive. “This will be a difficult site for us to work through,” Grosof said. (AP)