Hot Air Balloon Bursts Into Flames and Crashes, Killing 1 at New Mexico Festival

A balloon basket caught on fire, separated from the rest of the balloon and crashed during the city's annual hot-air balloon fiesta Friday, killing one person, a fiesta official said.

Two people — a pilot and a passenger — were aboard the Wings of Wind balloon when it crashed north of Albuquerque, said Kathie Leyendecker, a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, held each October.

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She did not know whether it was the pilot or the passenger who was killed, and had no immediate word on the condition of the second person.

The yellow, brown and orange balloon was shaped like an upside down triangle and was among hundreds of balloons participating in Friday's events at the balloon fiesta, which runs through Sunday.

Ambulances arrived quickly at the scene of the smoking basket, called a gondola, witnesses said. A New Mexico National Guard Blackhawk helicopter touched down later near where the balloon drifted to the ground.

A witness, Alan Manning, told The Associated Press he saw the basket in flames and saw things falling from it, but could not tell if they were people or the propane tanks that fuel the hot air balloons.

The fiesta has had fatalities before.

During last year's event, 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.

During the 1998 fiesta, one woman was killed when a balloon plowed into two sets of power lines before plummeting about 30 feet to the ground. In 1993, two men were killed during the fiesta when their balloon hit power lines, severing the gondola, which plunged about 90 feet to the ground.

Two men died during the 1990 fiesta when their balloon crashed into power lines and burst into flames. And four people died and five were injured during the 1982 fiesta when propane tanks on a large balloon exploded.