A 48-year-old British tourist has died after falling from a hot air balloon in South Africa on Tuesday.
The woman, identified as Susan Astle, was reportedly on the hot air balloon ride with her husband and two sons when it was suddenly swept by a powerful wind and crashed into a tree, News24 reported.
Astle and a four-year-old girl fell out of the basket after it tilted about 20 feet above the ground near the Buffelspoort Dam, North West Province.
A paramedic who responded to the hot air balloon crash site told The Sun that Susan Astle’s husband and sons followed her to the hospital. However, she died overnight on Tuesday at the Mediclinic Brits hospital.
The medic described the incident as “an awful tragedy.”
Astle reportedly suffered head injuries. The four-year-old girl who also fell out of the basket sustained serious injuries and was airlifted to an intensive care hospital for children in Johannesburg. Although the mother of the four-year-old girl did not fall out of the basket, she suffered internal injuries and was transported to a hospital. Two men were also hospitalized with injuries.
In total, there were about 14 people on the hot air balloon ride when the accident occurred.
Loanne Louw, a spokesperson for the Hartbeespoort Emergency Rescue Service, said that the basket of the hot air balloon appears to have bounced off the ground a couple of times before it hit a tree, Kormorant reported.
A 70-year-old survivor of the ride told News24 that she and the other passengers had to hang on for their life as the hot air balloon was swept by the wind. She said it was like being in a car that is driving backward at high speed.
“I am just absolutely thankful that we are all alive. It was supposed to be one beautiful day out, but it turned into an absolute nightmare,” she said.
Susan Astle and her family, who are said to be from Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, were reportedly on holiday in South Africa when the hot air balloon accident occurred.
Bill Harrop, the owner of Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris, who is also British, said that there had not been any incident like this since his company was founded in 1981. While he said that he is looking into the incident and also cooperating with the authorities, Harrop vindicated the pilot of the hot air balloon flight of any culpability in the incident.
He said that the weather was okay at the time of takeoff on Tuesday morning. However, the wind picked up speed from five knots to about 29 knots midair.
“Once the wind picks up, you have to find the safest landing location, and it ended up with a fast landing. It was very well executed, with a very skilled and experienced pilot. Just before they stopped the drag, they hit some rocks, and that caused a problem,” Harrop explained. The pilot of the flight is getting counseling, the Daily Mail reported.
The hot air balloon was reportedly swept off course to a remote location. The 70-year-old survivor said that a passenger had to go and ask a farmer to help in contacting paramedics to save the injured.
South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Kabelo Ledwaba said that the accident is currently under investigation, OFM reported. He noted that safety recommendations for hot air balloon flights would be released after the investigation is completed.
“We wish to extend our deepest condolences to those aboard our flight and their families,” Harrop said.
According to its website, Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris is a family-run business. The company reportedly has a fleet of six large hot air balloons.
[Featured Image by Amr Nabil/AP Images]