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At least 16 people were feared dead after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed in a pasture near the central Texas city of Lockhart on Saturday morning in one of the deadliest balloon accidents on record.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the crash occurred near Lockhart, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Austin and at least 16 people were on board the balloon. It did not comment on fatalities.
“It does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash,” Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law said in a statement.
Emergency responders in Texas said the fire hit the basket portion of the hot air balloon.
“Right now, we have a number of fatalities,” a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said from the scene, adding that a Federal Bureau of Investigation team was being dispatched to help in evidence-gathering.
The NTSB offered no details on what may have caused the accident, which occurred on a clear day. It said it believed the balloon belonged to a tour group that offers hot air balloon rides.
Margaret Wylie, 66 and an area resident, told reporters the balloon ignited into a fireball.
“First I heard a whooshing sound and then a big ball of fire (flared) up,” she told broadcasters including KVUE-TV of Austin.
“I don’t ever want to see something like that again,” she said, adding the chase group for the balloon arrived on the scene after the sheriff’s department.
The crash of the balloon is the deadliest on record in the Western Hemisphere, said Jeff Chatterton, a spokesman for the Balloon Federation of North America.
“There are thousands of balloons that go up every year,” he said. “This is unspeakably tragic but it is rather unique.”
More than 150 commercial hot air balloon companies operate in North America, he said.
The sheriff’s office said it was working to determine the identities of those aboard.
More than a dozen police vehicles could be seen on pasture land at the site of the crash, which the FAA said took place at about 7:40 a.m. (1240 GMT).
Texas Governor Greg Abbott offered his condolences to those killed in the crash.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, as well as the Lockhart community,” he said in a statement.
Lockhart is a town of about 13,000 people near state parks and home to a variety of barbecue restaurants considered to be among the best in the state.
The accident occurred about three years after 19 people, mostly Asian and European tourists, were killed in a hot air balloon crash in Luxor, Egypt.
A year before that incident, a hot air balloon burst into flames and crashed in New Zealand, killing all 11 people on board in the country’s worst air accident in more than three decades.