Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Authorities investigating deadly air balloon crash

Published:Monday | August 1, 2016 | 8:00 AM
The partial frame of a hot air balloon is visible above a crop field as investigators comb the wreckage of the hot air balloon crash on Saturday morning in Texas.

LOCKHART, Texas (AP):

At least 16 people died in the hot air balloon crash in Central Texas, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Sunday, adding that investigators are still trying to determine the exact number of passengers and what caused the accident.

It is one of the worst such disasters in both US and world history. NTSB investigators are beginning the process of determining what caused the balloon to crash Saturday morning in a pasture near Lockhart, Texas, which is about 30 miles south of Austin, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said during a news conference on Sunday in Washington. He noted they'll be looking at "three things - human, machine and environment."

Investigators will scrutinise the company that operated the balloon and the pilot, neither of which have been publicly identified. The balloon was operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, according to two officials familiar with the investigation, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorised to speak publicly. The operation does not appear to be registered with the state of Texas. The NTSB also said they'll look at the aircraft's maintenance history and weather at the time of the crash.

Officials are unsure how many people were riding in the balloon and will look into whether the operator of the balloon filed a passenger manifest before taking off. Sumwalt noted that balloons do not usually file flight plans. He added that federal officials are particularly interested in any cell-phone video of the balloon's flight, and that investigators will look for devices in the wreckage that have recoverable video shot by passengers, as well as any video from witnesses.

The crash happened in farmland, and cutting through it is a row of massive high-capacity electrical transmission lines. The site of the crash appears to be right below the overhead lines and aerial photos showed an area of charred pasture underneath, but authorities haven't provided further details about what happened.

Authorities have not released the names of those who were on board and have not said who was flying the balloon.