By Ryley Thompson
Balloon number 193 crashed into power lines at the corner of Sara Road and Meadowlark Lane just east of the ASK Academy at approximately 8:30 this morning.
Janet Garcia, public information officer for the Rio Rancho Police Department, said there were two male passengers in the gondola, one sustained severe injuries to the head and chest area. The other passenger suffered severe burns to the face; both have been transported to the emergency room to receive further medical care.
Junior Ryan Pipkin witnessed the crash as he came down the southern-facing stairs at ASK. “I saw the balloon and thought it had landed, then I saw the gondola leaning up against the powerlines. The balloon was weighting the basket in the opposite direction, so the pilot couldn’t get his basket away from the lines.”
Pipkin then saw the pilot pull the propane valve release, and when the flames shot up, it caught the gondola and balloon on fire. “It exploded. Someone in the gondola started screaming for help, and the chase crew — who was already waiting at the scene — started yelling. I heard someone say ‘Call 911.’”
The balloon quickly crashed to the ground after the fire. The Rio Rancho Fire Department was at the scene within minutes, and several nuns walked to the crash from the nearby funeral home.
The powerline wires were partly severed after being struck by the gondola. Garcia said she has not heard of any power outages in the area, although students and staff at ASK felt the electricity flicker when the gondola struck the powerlines. PNM is currently working on the situation. Updates will come as we have more information.