Adolphe Pierre-Louis / AP
A hot air balloon hit a power line and crashed into a busy street in Albuquerque on Saturday, killing all five people on board, including the parents of an Albuquerque police officer, police said.
The accident happened around 7 am on the west side of the city, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. Police identified the two passengers as Martin Martinez, 59, and Maria Martinez, 62, the parents of a prison officer from the Albuquerque Police Department.
Police did not immediately release the names of the others, but said the male pilot and passenger and woman were from central New Mexico.
Martin Martinez also worked for Albuquerque police on a bicycle patrol, but was recently a police sergeant in local school districts, authorities said. Some Albuquerque police officers who responded to the crash worked with him and were sent home because it did them a tribute, Police Chief Harold Medina said.
“She really emphasized the point that no matter how big we think we are, we are still a close community and incidents like this affect all of us,” Medina said.
The Albuquerque District of Public Schools said Martin Martinez “will forever be remembered for his dedication, courage and selflessness in the law enforcement profession.”
The intersection where the balloon crashed is still fenced off late Saturday afternoon. A multicolored balloon bypassed the top of the transmission line, sending at least one hanging and temporarily shutting off electricity to more than 13,000 homes, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.
The gondola fell about 30 meters (30 meters) and collapsed in the middle of the street, catching fire, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Passers-by frantically called a fire extinguisher to put out the flames and prayed aloud, a video posted online showed.
The balloon envelope floated and eventually landed on the roof of the apartment building, Gallegos said. The FAA did not immediately have details about the registration of the balloon, but identified it as Cameron 0-120.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board sent two investigators to the scene on Saturday to examine the pilot, the balloon itself and the operating environment, spokesman Peter Knudson said. A preliminary report is usually available in a few weeks.
Gallegos said hot air balloons can be difficult to manage, especially when the wind is accelerating.
“Our raincoats are usually very skilled at navigation, but sometimes we have these kinds of tragic accidents,” he said.
Albuquerque is soft for hot air balloons. The city is hosting a nine-day event in October that attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and pilots from around the world. It is one of the most photographed events on a global scale.
Residents of the Albuquerque area year-round are treated to vivid depictions of balloons hovering above homes and along the Rio Grande. Although accidents are not common, they do happen.
“This is a tragedy that is uniquely felt and hits uniquely at home here in Albuquerque and in the ballooning community,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said.
Since 2008, there have been 12 fatal hot air balloon accidents in the United States, according to the NTSB database. Two of those who were bitten in Rio Ranchou near Albuquerque, including one in January, when a passenger who was ejected from a gondola after a difficult landing died from his injuries.
In 2016, in neighboring Texas, a hot air balloon hit high-voltage power lines before crashing into pasture in the central part of the state. All 16 people on board died. Federal authorities said at the time that it was the worst such disaster in U.S. history.