The balloon hit a power line and crashed into a busy street in Albuquerque on Saturday, police said, killing all five people on board, including the parents of the Albuquerque police officer.
According to police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, the accident occurred at about 7 a.m. on the west side of the city. Police identified the two passengers as Martin Martinez, 59, and Mary Martinez, 62, parents of a prison transport officer at the Albuquerque Police Department.
Police did not immediately reveal the names of the others, but said the male pilot, as well as the female and male passenger, were from central New Mexico.
Martin Martinez also worked for the Albuquerque police on bicycle patrols, but recently served as a police sergeant for the local school district, authorities said. According to Police Chief Harold Medina, some of the Albuquerque officers who responded to the accident worked with him and were sent home because it was seriously damaging them.
“It really highlighted the fact that no matter how big we are, we are still a tight-knit community and incidents like this affect all of us,” Medina said.
The Albuquerque Public Schools District said Martin Martinez “will forever be remembered for his dedication, courage and dedication to law enforcement.”
The intersection where the balloon fell was still cordoned off late Saturday night. According to police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos, a multicolored balloon circled the top of the power lines, sending at least one dangling and temporary blackout to more than 13,000 homes.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the gondola fell about 30 meters and crashed into the middle of the street, catching fire. Passersby desperately clamored for a fire extinguisher to put out the flames and prayed loudly, as shown in a video posted online.
According to Gallegos, the balloon’s shell floated away and landed on the roof of an apartment building. The FAA did not immediately have registration details for the balloon, but identified it as Cameron 0-120.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board sent two investigators to the scene on Saturday to examine the pilot, the balloon and the operating environment, spokesman Peter Knudson said. A preliminary report is usually available in a couple of weeks.
Gallegos said that flying balloons can be difficult, especially when the wind is blowing.
“Our balloonists are usually very good at navigation, but sometimes such tragic accidents happen,” he said.
Albuquerque is a mecca for hot air ballooning. In October, the city hosts a nine-day event that attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and pilots from all over the world. This is one of the most photographed events in the world.
Residents of the Albuquerque area watch colorful balloons floating above houses and along the Rio Grande River throughout the year. Although accidents are not common, they do happen.
“This is a tragedy that is uniquely felt and strikes especially hard at home here in Albuquerque and in the aeronautics community,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.
According to the NTSB database, there have been 12 fatal hot air balloon accidents in the United States since 2008. Two of them lived in Rio Rancho near Albuquerque, including one in January, when a passenger thrown from a gondola after a hard landing died of his injuries.
In 2016, in neighboring Texas, a hot air balloon struck a high-voltage power line and then crashed into a pasture in the central part of the state. All 16 people on board were killed. Federal authorities then said that it was the worst such disaster in US history.