- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 30, 2016

At least 16 people are reportedly dead after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed Saturday morning in central Texas.

The incident unfolded around 7:40 a.m. local time near Lockhart, Texas, south of Austin, Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration’s public affairs office told the Associated Press.

“The balloon was occupied and it does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash,” Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law said in a statement. “Investigators are determining the number and the identities of victims at this time.”

Authorities were initially deployed to the scene of the crash after receiving a 911 call concerning a possible automobile crash, the AP reported. Once on the scene, however, “it was apparent that the reported fire was the basket portion of a hot air balloon,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“First I heard a whoosh,” said Margaret Wylie, a witness who lives near the scene. “And then a big ball of fire (went) up. I’d say it got as high up as those lower electric lines,” she told TWC News.

Caldwell County Judge Ken Schawe said Saturday that details about the crash were still sketchy, but said certain information indicated the balloon may had been set ablaze after colliding with a power line, CNN reported. A second source with the Texas Department of Public Safety told the network that investigators were treating that scenario as a working theory.

Representatives from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board were sent immediately to the scene to assist local and state authorities and are expected to spend several days conducting an investigation.

Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement Saturday asking “all of Texas to join us in praying for those lost.”

“Texans are strong in the face of adversity, and we all stand together in support of the families and entire Lockhart community as they respond to and begin to heal from this terrible incident,” Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement.

Speaking at a news conference Saturday, Erik Grosof of the NTSB declined to comment on the exact death toll but said there had been a “number of fatalities” and a “significant loss of life.”

Preliminary reports suggest 16 people were on board the balloon at the time of the crash — “the maximum number of passengers allowed under federal regulations” according to the NTSB. The names of the deceased will be announced after the victims’ family members are notified.

The aircraft that crashed was owned and operated by Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

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