Screams heard before balloon crash

Last updated 19:51 10/05/2014

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Three people are missing after a hot air balloon caught fire over Virginia during a ballooning festival, according to event organisers and witnesses.

One local described hearing people calling for help from the balloon's basket after officials said it appeared to hit a powerline in Doswell about 48km north of Richmond.

Rescue crews said they were still searching for the pilot, two passengers and any signs of wreckage.

Witnesses posted photos online showing a balloon in mid-air with its basket engulfed in flames and a trail of smoke spilling into the sky.

''They were just screaming for anybody to help them,'' resident Carrie Hager-Bradley told a local NBC affiliate.

Another resident, Debra Ferguson, told a local newspaper she looked up after other balloons had landed safely near her house and heard cries of ''Oh my god" and then saw a surge of flames.

''As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there ... it was like a match, poof, and then it was gone,'' Ferguson told the Free Lance-Star, of Fredericksburg.

 

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames and heard people yelling, according to television station WWBT.

''They were just screaming for anybody to help them,'' the station quoted her as saying. She said she heard one person screaming, '''Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die.''

 

The balloon ''apparently hit a power line'' at 7.30 pm local time, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

The balloon was taking part in the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival and crashed near a park, organisers said in a statement on their website, quoting Virginia state police.

''No wreckage has been found yet, and there are no confirmed injuries or fatalities,'' the statement added.

A ground search was under way involving state police, the Federal Aviation Administration, and local law enforcement and emergency workers, officials said.

''State police report that bad weather elsewhere in the Richmond vicinity has grounded air search for the time being,'' organisers wrote on the website.

More than 20 hot air balloon teams from across the United States were due to take part in the festival at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, organisers said.

The balloon festival was scheduled to begin Saturday but was holding a special event Friday for a limited number of people, according to the reports, which said organisers have cancelled the rest of the festival.

-Reuters and AP

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