Sixteen people were killed when a hot air balloon crashed in a fiery blaze on a rural field in central Texas, authorities told local media Saturday, one of the deadliest such accidents in history.
The balloon burst into flames and plummeted to earth soon after dawn outside the town of Lockhart, some 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Austin, Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement.
“When the Emergency Responders and the Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene, it was apparent that the reported fire was the basket portion of a hot air balloon,” the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed that the 16 people onboard had died, according to the Austin American-Statesman and other US media.
Reporters at the scene, who gathered on a country road where passersby stopped to gawk in the searing Texas heat, were kept at arm’s length from the actual crash.
Local residents speculated that the balloon had struck a power line that runs prominently across the field.
“I didn’t see the balloon hit. I just heard the popping. And I heard the popping, and then the next thing I knew is the fireball went up,” Margaret Wylie, a 66-year-old who lives nearby and witnessed the crash, told broadcaster TWC News Austin.