DOSWELL, Va. (AP) — A hot-air balloon is believed to have caught fire and crashed in Virginia after colliding with a power line, according to state police, who were searching for the wreckage, a pilot and two passengers after eyewitnesses said they saw the balloon in flames and heard screams for help.
Virginia State Police received calls about a balloon crash shortly before 8 p.m. Friday, police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told a news conference, according to several news media reports. She said a pilot and two passengers were believed to be on board, and that police believe it was the balloon's gondola that caught fire after it apparently struck a power line.
She said police had not yet found any wreckage but planned to search throughout the night, initially by ground and possibly by air if weather allowed. Severe storms were forecast for the area, she said. Geller did not immediately respond to a telephone message left by The Associated Press.
Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery store and heard people yelling, according to WWBT TV.
"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," the station quoted her as saying. "'Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,'" Hager-Bradley said she heard one person screaming.
The apparent crash happened near the Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, site of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, according to the news reports. The festival was scheduled to begin officially on Saturday, but was holding a special kickoff event Friday for a limited number of people, according to the reports, which said organizers have now canceled the rest of the festival.
Some hot air balloons landed safely in Debra Ferguson's yard, she was quoted by The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Virginia, as saying.
She said one of the men in the balloons pointed up at another still in the air and said he thought it might be in trouble.
"As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there," the newspaper quoted Ferguson as saying. "All I heard was, 'Oh my God, Oh my God,' and all you saw was the top of the balloon still flying, but all of the basket was gone. All of the flames just disappeared. ... It was like a match — poof — and then it was gone."
Caroline County resident Paula Dustin said she and her family and a friend were watching the balloons inflate and take off when they saw one in the distance that appeared to be in distress.
"We saw a glow, and you could tell the bottom of the balloon was in flames," Dustin was quoted by the newspaper as saying.