Federal officials investigating fatal hot air balloon crash that killed 16

FAA says hot air balloon hit high-voltage power line

LOCKHART, Texas – A hot air balloon ride turned deadly in Caldwell County Saturday when the balloon hit a high-voltage power line, caught fire and then crashed, killing 16 people, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Authorities are investigating the crash that happened in the 700 block of Jolly Road. 

One person told KSAT 12 News she heard it happening.

“I didn't see the balloon, but I heard some popping noises. And then when I looked back over this way, I saw the fire ball go up,” Margaret Wylie said."I was praying that whoever was there got away from the thing in time."

The victims' names have still not been released by authorities. 

"I've just seen them land, and then I've seen them get up and go. You just look at them from far away and wonder, 'Wow, they're having such a great time,'" said Alejandro Yanez, a man who lives near the crash site.

The crash happened about 7:40 a.m. Saturday in a pasture in Maxwell, Texas. The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office said that’s when it first received a call. It was thought to be a car fire. Once deputies arrived at the scene, however, it was apparent that they had found the basket portion of a hot air balloon.

The Sheriff’s Office has now turned over the investigation to the National Transportation Safety Board.

“We'll also have investigators in our operations group, structures, systems. We'll also have victims’ specialist, weather experts, all who will be arriving tonight for what will be a significant investigation into this tragedy,” said Erik Grosof, senior adviser with the NTSB.

The NTSB has asked the FBI’s evidence response team to help in its investigation with what is now the deadliest balloon crash in U.S. history. Grosof said it’s likely a crime scene and the investigators want to make sure they do everything correctly.

The names of those killed have no been released, but KSAT 12 News has found several posts on the Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides Facebook page. The page lists Skip Nichols as its chief pilot.

Nichols posted several videos on the company's Facebook page of past flights. Several condolences for Nichols were posted.

Jimmy Alvarez, Nichols's neighbor, said Nichols offered to give him and his wife a balloon ride.

“I kind of had a knot in my stomach. It’s just sad,” Alvarez said after learning about the crash.

Those who knew Nichols said he loved his big balloon business. Friends of his praised him on social media.

“My wife heard about it. I heard about it. She had tears in her eyes,” Alvarez said. “She talked to him also. He was real nice.”

Last year, SA Live went on a ride along with Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Watch the story below:

Looking for a high-flying adventure? Hitch a ride on a hot air balloon with Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides!

Posted by SA Live on Friday, May 15, 2015

Count on KSAT 12 News to report the latest developments on this story. 

Gov. Greg Abbott released the following statement:  

Cecilia and I extend our deepest condolences for all those who have been affected by today’s heartbreaking tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, as well as the Lockhart community. The investigation into the cause of this tragic accident will continue, and I ask all of Texas to join us in praying for those lost.


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