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Pilot Immolated in DelCo Hot Air Balloon Tragedy

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ASSOCIATED PRESS: CHESTER SPRINGS, Pa. — A hot air balloon made an unscheduled landing and burst into flames [NOT pictured, above] in suburban Philadelphia Sunday evening, killing its pilot and injuring seven passengers. The balloon carrying eight people was making an hourlong flight, but descended early into a field about two miles from the liftoff site, said Deputy Chief Chuck Fields of the Kimberton Fire Co.

“It was an unscheduled landing, but it came down making a normal landing,” Fields said. “It did not fall from the sky on fire.” When the basket landed shortly before 6:40 p.m., a fuel hose dislodged. The venting propane was ignited by the flame used to heat the air for flight and set fire to the balloon and basket, Fields said. The pilot was unable to get out of the basket and died at the scene, West Vincent Township Police Chief Michael Swininger said.

Passengers jumped from the basket but were burned, some seriously, Fields said. They were assisted by nearby residents until fire department and ambulance workers arrived. Two victims were flown to Temple University Hospital and were being treated in the burn unit, said a spokeswoman who declined to comment on their condition. MORE

balloon_1.jpgINQUIRER: Air Ventures is owned by Debbie Harding, who is credited with being the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon over the North Pole. Witnesses said they heard the “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” of the balloon’s flame, “then nothing.” The balloon came down in a field about 200 feet behind Barbara Berry’s Kimberton Road house. She heard the passengers in the gondola calling out and she watched through trees as the balloon dropped toward the ground.

“They were yelling . . . and the basket was on fire,” said the 46-year-old Berry. “The balloon still had air and was dragging the basket along the ground. We ran out and I saw one woman leap out of the side of the basket head first.” Berry and her 14-year-old son Nick Berry said some may have jumped out of the burning gondola before it hit the ground. Others fled on impact. “People were diving out of the basket,” said Nick Berry. The flames “shot 10 feet from top of basket,” said Barbara Berry. “I didn’t hear any loud explosion. I just saw fire.” MORE


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