Balloon passenger remains critical in New Mexico

AP News
Posted: Oct 10, 2013 6:15 PM
Balloon passenger remains critical in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The passenger in a fiery crash at Albuquerque's balloon fiesta remained in critical condition Thursday as officials launched an inquiry into the first serious accident at the annual festival in several years.

Police said Daniel Lovato, 66, was severely burned after the balloon struck power lines and fell 40 feet. The pilot, 59-year-old Mark Kilgore, also was injured.

Lovato remained in critical condition, according to the University of New Mexico Hospital. Kilgore was reported in satisfactory condition Wednesday before he requested his information be kept private. Both men are from Albuquerque.

Fiesta officials say they are investigating the crash and have reported it to the Federal Aviation Administration. The pilot has 10 days to report the accident to the National Transportation Safety Board.

While balloons occasionally get tangled in power lines or make hard landings, it was the first serious accident during Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in several years.

In 2009, a Pennsylvania man was killed and another man injured after a fiery collision with power lines. Another man was seriously injured that year after tumbling out of a gondola.

In 2007, 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.

Festival spokesman Tom Garrity said more than 500 balloons take off every day during the festival, which goes through Sunday.

"We know that incidents will happen," he said. "When you have an aircraft that does not have a steering wheel, and pilots are at the whim of the wind, the only thing pilots can control are their ascent and descent. Add winds into that equation and you are going to time-to-time have pilots and balloons finding themselves in a place they weren't intending to be."

On Saturday, the opening day of the festival, a woman broke her leg during a hard landing. Garrity said the festival also has had three minor incidents, two involving power lines and one with an air conditioning unit.