State police: Hot-air balloon struck power line, burst into flames

Posted at 9:34 PM, May 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-10 08:40:06-04

DOSWELL, Va. (WTVR) -- Virginia State Police said three people are missing after witnesses reported seeing the hot-air balloon they were riding in catch fire and crash at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival.

State police were alerted to an accident involving a hot-air balloon near Meadow Event Park by the Caroline County Sheriff's Office around 7:55 p.m. Friday, Virginia State Police Public Relations Director Corinne Geller said during a news conference.

Geller said three hot-air balloons took off from Meadow Event Park Friday night and headed northeast to a pre-approved landing zone about two miles away from the park. Two of the balloons landed safely at the designated spot. However, as the third balloon approached to land, witnesses said it struck a power line and burst into flames.

Official said the pilot immediately started trying to get the fire under control, and began procedures to open the top of the balloon – since the added heat of the fire would cause the balloon to rise rapidly.

Witnesses then reported hearing two explosions. At one point, the balloon and gondola separated and the balloon took off at a high rate of speed, state police said.

According to the witnesses, a one pilot and two passengers were onboard the balloon when it burst into flames.

Witnesses reported seeing the balloon crash somewhere off Ruther Glen Road near Signboard Road, which is northeast of Meadow Event Park.

State police said they have "an idea” of the people who were in the missing balloon based on reports from family members.

Searchers in Caroline County reported spotting wreckage from the crashed hot-air balloon around 11:40 p.m.
Storms near Richmond originally grounded an air search, but a Henrico search plane was in the air around 11 p.m. and spotted a brush fire.

CBS 6 reporter Jon Burkett was on the scene and reported smelling fuel as two choppers circled the site as Bowling Green volunteer firefighters searching the woods.

Geller said earlier that multiple crews were working to find the wreckage and that added crews were dispatched.

State police, along with Caroline deputies and crews from Henrico had been searching for the wreckage for hours.

“And we will continue through the night. We’ve got additional recourses coming into Caroline County so that we will continue through the night until we find the wreckage.”

Authorities set up a staging area and command post near the fairgrounds.

A balloon festival spokesman said the remainder of the event has been canceled.

Virginia State Police ask anyone who saw the balloon on fire to call 804-994-5754.

Stay with and CBS 6 News for updates on this story.