A hot air balloon carrying 16 people crashed in Lockhart, Texas, yesterday leaving no survivors. The crash has been deemed the deadliest hot air balloon accident in U.S. history and the Federal Aviation Committee and Department of Transportation are investigating what went wrong. Following the accident, family members and authorities have revealed the identities of some of the victims including a newlywed couple, three members of the same family, and a 20-year veteran balloon pilot.
The Daily Mail reports that investigators believe the deadly hot air balloon accident was caused when the balloon hit a power line and caught fire. The basket portion of the balloon is believed to have hit the power line, igniting instantly. The balloon then crashed to the ground below into a desolate field. However, photos taken by passersby of the hot air balloon shortly before the horrific accident reveals that the balloon may have been struggling to stay afloat. The low-flying balloon was seen just above the treeline in the minutes leading up to the deadly incident with witnesses noting that the balloon appeared overcrowded and that the pilot appeared to be attempting to get the balloon higher as the flame in the balloon was burning full strength. Though the witness did not see the crash take place, he did snap a photograph of the balloon with its signature yellow smiley face pattern with his phone.
“I’d never seen one with that many people. It just didn’t look right. They were hovering in the tree line, and it was barely moving. The flame was really bright like they were trying to go up.”
Investigators have revealed that the balloon was owned by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides and was being piloted by Skip Nichols, a 20-year hot air balloon pilot veteran, at the time of the crash. Skip was proud of his hot air balloon and filled his Facebook page with images of the “Too Cool American” balloon. He frequently posted about openings and locations of upcoming flights onto his page and seemed to be overjoyed with his line of work.
Other victims from the deadly air balloon disaster are also being released on Facebook and in the media by grieving family members and friends. One Facebook user noted that three members of the same family were killed in the Texas air balloon disaster and says that a 5-year-old child was left orphaned following the incident.
A Texas newlywed couple is also believed to be among the dead as the pair were slated to ride the balloon at 7:30 am. The Eagle reports that the newlywed couple from San Antonio, Matt and Sunday Rowan, have not been heard of since the accident and Matt failed to show up to a scheduled volleyball tournament. Therefore, family and friends believe the couple are among the deceased as they had planned the hot air balloon ride and then disappeared.
Another Facebook user took to Facebook to say that two cousins had passed away in the accident and provided a photo of the pair on a hot air balloon together.
Though the names of all of the victims have not been released. It seems that many are coming to terms with the fact that they may have known someone on the doomed flight.
In disbelief: just got word a guy from our fantasy football league was likely one of the 16 in Lockhart hot air balloon with his new wife.
— Ty C. Hodges, CFP® (@tycolby) July 31, 2016
Investigators note that they are still trying to identify victims and that the task has proven difficult as the hot air balloon company did not keep a manifest of riders and customers were allowed to purchase tickets onsite. Therefore, guests could have simply walked up to the balloon and purchased a ticket making it difficult for police to know exactly who was on the balloon.
[Image via Facebook/ Skip Nichols]