Man killed in New Mexico balloon fiesta accident
A man has died and another was critically injured when their hot air balloon crashed at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico.
The balloon crashed into power lines and burst into flames, throwing the two men on board to the ground.
Stephen Lachendro of Butler, Pa., was killed and Keith Sproul of North Brunswick, N.J., was critically injured. A festival spokeswoman said she did not know who was piloting the "Wings of Wind" balloon.
Witnesses told the Associated Press that winds had picked up and many balloons were flying low before the accident.
Lachendro was found dead at the scene on the side of a ditch; Sproul was unconscious and taken to the hospital, Rio Rancho Fire Battalion Chief Paul Bearce said.
"I couldn't believe it," said Glenn Vonderahe, a witness. "I saw the balloon and the next thing I knew, there was a lot of fire and smoke. There was total fire under the balloon."
He first saw the balloon land, then bounce back up and apparently hit some power lines, he said. The balloon was stuck in the lines for a time, and then Vonderahe saw the balloon portion — called the envelope — float away, a burning tank still attached.
"Debris was flying everywhere," he said. The tank fell harmlessly to the ground, and the drifting envelope was eventually found about 15 miles away.
The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate the crash, said National Guard Lt. Col. John Fishburn.
The festival has been running since 1972 and now attracts tens of thousands of visitors to Albuquerque.
There have been other fatalities in previous years, mostly from balloons hitting power lines.
Last year, a 60-year-old Oceanside, Calif., woman fell at least 70 feet to her death and three other women were hospitalized after their balloon snagged a power line.
In 1982, four people died when propane tanks on a large balloon exploded. Other fatalities were recorded in 1990, 1993 and 1998.
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