A hot air balloon caught fire and crashed in Lockhart on Saturday morning. At least 16 people were killed.
Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference Saturday that there are a "number of fatalities" but would not provide an exact number. He also said the federal agency has deemed it a major accident and a full-bore investigation will begin Sunday when more federal officials arrive.
The Caldwell County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call about a possible vehicle accident on Jolly Road, north of Cistern Road in the Maxwell Texas area. When emergency responders arrived on scene, it was apparent that the reported fire was the basket portion of a hot air balloon.
“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. “Investigators are determining the number and the identities of victims at this time.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety was notified and the scene was secured. That portion of Jolly Road will be closed until the preliminary investigation is completed. Initially federal officials reported that there were sixteen people on board the balloon.
The land near the crash site is mostly farmland, with corn crops and grazing cattle, The Associated Press reported. Cutting through that farmland is a row of massive, high-capacity transmission lines, and the site of the crash appears to be right below the overhead lines.
Margaret Wylie lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site and told The Associated Press that she was letting her dog out Saturday morning when she heard a "pop, pop, pop." "I looked around and it was like a fireball going up," she said, noting that the fireball was located under large power lines and almost high enough to reach the bottom of them.
Wylie, who called 911, said the weather seemed clear and that she frequently sees hot air balloons in the area.
Governor Greg Abbott issued a statement following the hot air balloon crash:
"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."
Accident investigators warned the Federal Aviation Administration two years ago of the potential for large numbers of hot air balloon deaths and recommended greater safety oversight of commercial operators. The FAA rejected those recommendations.
Lockhart is about 30 miles southeast of Austin.