Published April 25, 2010
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A hot air balloon carrying 14 people crashed early Sunday in the desert south of Dubai, killing at least two.
Aviation authorities said the accident happened at 6:45 a.m. local time near Suwaihan and Nahel, a pair of villages surrounded by farms and date plantations about 45 miles (72 kilometers) south of Dubai.
The nationalities of those killed are Indian and French, according to the UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority.
At least two other people were injured in the crash, including a Tanzanian ground crew member who is in serious condition, according to authorities and the balloon tour operator.
The balloon was operated by Balloon Adventures Emirates, said the sightseeing company's director, Peter Kollar. He said passengers were taken to a hospital in Al Ain, a nearby oasis city on the border with Oman.
Kollar said a sudden change of wind struck the balloon as it came in to land. The balloon took off in light winds but gusts picked up considerably shortly after takeoff, prompting the pilot to make an emergency landing, the company said in an e-mailed account of the accident.
"It was a freak wind change," Kollar told The Associated Press. "The balloon did not fall out of the sky. It happened at landing."
The company has suspended flights for the coming days while authorities investigate the crash. Kollar said the company was working with local investigators.
Dubai-based Balloon Adventures operates early morning desert sightseeing trips from a launch site in the remote area near where the crash occurred.
The company describes itself on its website as "the most experienced balloon company in the world," with other operations in Germany, New Zealand and Hungary. It is licensed by Emirati authorities and regularly tests its balloons during routine maintenance. It says this is its first accident in five years of operation.