Five people were killed Saturday morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a hot air balloon collided with a power line, severing the envelope and sending the basket plunging to the ground. The disaster is being investigated by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.
The pilot, Nicholas Meleski, 62, and the four passengers, Susan Montoya, 65; John Montoya, 61; Mary Martinez, 59; and Martin Martinez, 62, were identified by the New Mexico State Police on Sunday. Each of them was an Albuquerque resident.
According to Albuquerque Police, four victims died at the site, while another was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition but died later.
According to witnesses, the balloon fell toward the ground at approximately 7:30 a.m. Saturday and collided with an overhead power wire. The basket broke from the envelope and dropped about 100 feet (30 meters), and crashed into a busy city street before catching on fire, authorities said.
“If you have ballooned, there are always things that can happen, whether it’s winds, whether it’s equipment,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said at a press conference Saturday afternoon. “It’s something that our pilots always train for, but it’s always something that it can inherently sometimes occur.”
Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said he had worked with Martinez when he first joined the department.
“There were officers on the scene who I know worked with this individual during the course of their career,” Medina said. “We did have to send a number of officers home because they were a little bit disturbed from what had occurred, and it took its toll on them.”
The accident knocked down electricity to more than 13,000 consumers in the area, KOB 4 reported. Later the following day, it was restored.
“I’m incredibly saddened to hear of this terrible tragedy in Albuquerque,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted. “My prayers are with the loved ones of those affected.”
In Albuquerque, hot-air ballooning is a popular recreational activity. Each autumn, the city’s International Balloon Fiesta attracts hundreds of balloons.