Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Crash Kills 4, Police Say

Four people died at the scene and a fifth person died later at a hospital, Mayor Tim Keller of Albuquerque said.,

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Five people died after a hot-air balloon crashed into a power line in Albuquerque on Saturday morning, the authorities said.

Four people died at the scene, and one man was taken to a hospital where he later died, Mayor Tim Keller said at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

The victims included three men and two women, said Tom Ruiz, a spokesman for Albuquerque Fire Rescue.

Two of the victims were identified as Martin Martinez, 59, a former Albuquerque police officer, and his wife, Mary Martinez, 62, Mr. Keller said.

The other three victims were not identified as their families were being notified, but Mr. Keller said they were residents of central New Mexico.

Gilbert Gallegos, an Albuquerque police spokesman, said the pilot of the balloon was among the men who died, but officials did not identify him.

Harold Medina, the Albuquerque police chief, said several of his officers who responded to the crash had to be sent home later because they were so disturbed by what had happened.

“It took its toll on them,” Chief Medina said. “In 26 years, it’s one of the scenes that hit me the most, because it was just such a beautiful moment that led to such a tragic ending for these individuals involved.”

The crash happened around 7 a.m. local time near a CVS pharmacy on Unser Boulevard and Central Avenue in an area dotted with stores and restaurants.

“This is going to deeply affect our community,” Mr. Keller said, adding that because of the location of the crash, it’s likely that hundreds of Albuquerque residents saw it happen.

The gondola of the balloon, which was carrying all five individuals, crashed into power lines, caught fire and slammed into the street. The balloon then detached and floated away, Mr. Gallegos said.

It was unclear whether the balloon was falling before it hit the power lines, Mr. Keller said. The gondola fell about 100 feet, Mr. Ruiz said.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, Mr. Keller said.

“There are always things that can happen, whether it’s wind, whether it’s equipment, and it’s something that our pilots always trained for,” he said.

ImageThe hot-air balloon falling from the sky on Saturday.
The hot-air balloon falling from the sky on Saturday.Credit…Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal, via Associated Press

The Federal Aviation Agency said in a statement that the balloon was a Cameron 0-120, which fell about six miles west of the Albuquerque International Sunport airport.

Joshua Perez was at a gym when he heard what sounded like gunshots, he told the television station KOB. He and another man rushed to the scene with a fire extinguisher.

“It was like a loud ‘boom boom,'” he said, “and that’s when I’d seen the balloon already going by itself, and I was like, ‘Where’s the basket?'”

Mr. Perez helped turn off the propane tank but it was too late to save the passengers, he said.

“You could just see them on the ground,” he said. “No one was moving.”

The remnants of the balloon landed on a home in Austin Council’s neighborhood in Albuquerque. Mr. Council, 24, woke up to a loud whooshing sound, he said.

“The second that I looked outside and saw the fabric I knew something was wrong,” Mr. Council said in an interview on Saturday morning. “It was a little scary because the basket and people weren’t with the balloon.”

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The New Mexico State Police said the crash happened near a CVS pharmacy in an area dotted with stores and restaurants.Credit…Austin Council

Albuquerque has an active hot-air ballooning scene, and pilots are used to navigating the windy weather in the Southwest, Mr. Gallegos said.

The police did not know if the balloon was owned by a hot-air balloon company or an individual person.

Jesus Jimenez and Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.

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