CAROLINE COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) — State and local police are still searching for the wreckage of a hot-air balloon that caught fire after striking a power line at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival Friday evening.
The accident was first reported by Facebook viewers, and police confirmed they also received calls, with the first made at 7:56 p.m.
The incident is reported to have happened near Carmel Church Road, near Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.
Three hot-air balloons took off from Meadow Event Park and headed northeast to a pre-approved landing zone about two miles away from the park.
Two landed safely at a designated spot. As the third balloon was
landing, state police said it struck a power line and burst into flames.
The pilot immediately began trying to get the fire under control, and began procedures to open the top of the balloon, since the added heat of the fire caused the balloon to rapidly rise.
CBS 6 spoke with Sean Robinson, who saw the accident happen, said that they lost power at their home.
Carrie Bradley was with her family when they saw the balloon and pulled over to snap a photo. Then they saw people jumping from what Bradley said was hundreds of feet up in the air. Bradley said that her daughter was traumatized afterward. [WATCH: Woman says balloon fire victims screamed ‘Jesus, help us. We’re going to die’ before jumping]
The FAA is assisting in the investigation, but due to severe storms in the area, search planes were not in the air for a couple of hours, police said. After storms passed, a search plane was deployed.
At the time of the incident, it was daylight and it was not raining in Doswell. The sun set at 8:07 p.m. and the accident was reported at least 10 minutes before that.
The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival released a statement on Facebook, saying that a pilot and at least two passengers were missing.
CBS 6 has taken multiple calls throughout the night from around the country, with people inquiring of their loved ones who may have been on the balloon.
We have been told by a fiancee and friend that two local women are unaccounted for, who were at the balloon festival and who were photographed getting onto the balloon.
This was the inaugural event for Richmond. The first night kicked off with live music, food and drinks. Hot air balloon teams from all over the United States were expected to participate.
The event website page says that Friday was supposed to be a special limited-ticket happy hour to watch balloon teams take off in flight. Tickets for this event were advance-sale only and limited to 1,500 people, based on the website info.
Police are asking anyone who saw the balloon — or may have information that could help them locate the crash site — to call 804-994-5754.