2 people confirmed dead, 11 injured in B.C. balloon crash

Two people were confirmed dead on Saturday and 11 others were nursing injuries, some serious, after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed Friday in Surrey, B.C.
Two people were confirmed dead on Saturday and 11 others wereinjured, some seriously, after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed into a recreational vehicle park in Surrey, B.C., on Friday night.
The balloon's basket burst into flames shortly after it left the ground. The pilot told people to get out, but then the tether broke and the balloon soared into the air. ((Cheryl Birch/CBC))

There were 12 passengers and one pilot aboard the balloon when the basket caught fire shortly before dusk. Horrified family members watched from the ground as the balloon went up in flames.

Police would not confirm reports thedead included a mother and her adult daughter.

Three of the 11 who were hurt remained in serious condition in hospital on Saturday, with injuries that included broken bones and second-degree burns, authorities said.

Witnesses said it looked like a giant fireball asthe balloon and its propane tanksclimbed into the sky and then plunged into the Hazelmere RV Park near the U.S. border, destroying three mobile homes and two cars.
The balloon's basket is engulfed in flames shortly after takeoff, about six metres off the ground. ((Cheryl Birch/CBC))

The balloon departed from a grassy fieldin clear weather. On Saturday, officials were still trying to determine the cause of the fire in the basket.

"The operator had loaded 12 passengers and was preparing to launch the balloon when an uncontrolled fire erupted," said Bill Yearwood, an investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, told CBC News.

"The balloon was tethered at the time and the pilot instructed people to get out. It subsequently rose and the tether broke and it climbed before it collapsed and fell into a residential area."

People jumped from balloon

People could be seen jumping from the burning basket. Witnesses said the panic started when the balloon was about six metres off the ground.

John Kageorge with Fantasy Balloon Charters, the company that owns the balloon, said he was told that passengers weighed the basket down, but once they jumped out to avoid the fire, the balloon shot up in the air.
The balloon burns after it crashed at the RV park. ((Cheryl Birch/CBC))

"Most all passengers were taken out of the balloon when we were on the ground," Kageorge said.

"However, because of the heat causing the hot air balloon to lift, as well as the ballast, people being taken off, it started to rise."

"It appears there could have been three people on board when it left the ground and that one jumped from an unsafe distance."

Kageorge said it was the first accident the company has had in 21 years of operation.

"It seems to be some sort of a freak accident that caused this," he said.

"We do know there is a very strict procedure during the prelaunch of a balloon and that was followed during this particular incident."

Witness hears loud rumbles

Sgt. Roger Morrow with the Surrey RCMP said a plume of thick black smoke could be seen a number of kilometres away.

"Something caught fire as the balloon was ascending, and then a few hundred yards to the north is where the balloon actually came down and crashed, and there was a large fire," he said.

Walter Schwarze, who witnessed the crash, saidit sounded like a series of loud rumbles.
Firefighters work at the scene at Hazelmere RV Park, where the balloon crashed, destroying three mobile homes and two cars. ((Cheryl Birch/CBC))

"What I heard was aterrible rumbling sound. It was rumble, stop, rumble, stop, rumble.And I heard people screaming," he said.

Morrow said police are still working at the scene.

"They're compiling names of witnesses and things that have been told to them by those witnesses and then, I would be very strong in my suspicions, that we'll be turning that all over toTransport Canadainvestigators."

Balloon hits RVs

Dean Mullin, whose trailer was destroyed, said he had seconds to flee before the burning balloon hit his RV.

Picking through the charred wreckage on Saturday, Mullin said he's thankful to be alive.

"We're alive, that's the main thing. This can be replaced," he said. "None of us got hurt and the grandkids are OK. My wife, she's shook up, but we'll survive."

Kathyand John Reynolds returned to thewreckage of their traileron Saturdayafter aweek-longAlaskan cruise.

"Our beautiful backyard is still there. We could pitch a tent out there," Kathy Reynolds joked, with tears in her eyes.

Her husband said he had planned to buy RV insurance after their vacation.