Seven others injured when balloon bursts into flame

By DENNIS J. WRIGHT

WEST VINCENT - One person is dead and seven others were injured after a hot-air balloon burst into flames upon landing along Kimberton Road Sunday evening.

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The accident occurred around 6:38 p.m. Sept. 7, when a hot-air balloon, carrying eight people, went down and burst into flames upon landing at 1825 Kimberton Road, West Vincent Township.

The pilot of the hot-air balloon, who was from New Jersey died at the scene, while two people were flown to Temple University Hospital via MedEvac and PennStar.

Three others were taken to Chester Crozier Medical Center, one flown via Skycare, and two victims was transported to Phoenixville Hospital.

The conditions of the remaining victims was not known as of press deadline.

The victims sustained various injuries, along with several different degrees of burns on their bodies.

According to Kimberton Fire Captain Doug Gable, the hot-air balloon took off from 1012 Pottstown Pike, along Route 100, at an undetermined time on Sunday.

"It hasn't been determined how long the balloon was up in the air," said Gable. "We were dispatched to the scene for a balloon with confirmed injuries."

Upon arrival, Gable said that firefighters found the balloon to be fully engulfed.

"All seven passengers were able to get out of the basket," he said. "However, the pilot did not make it out in time. The residents were assisting and treating the passengers prior to emergency medical personnel arriving.

"Several victims said that the balloon landed properly on the ground, and then it caught on fire. The passengers were well organized as to how they got out of the basket. Everyone bailed quickly and no one panicked."

Firefighters were able to quickly extinguish the flames, however, one of the propane tanks continued to flare up, said Gable.

"The basket was completely destroyed," he said. "The Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA) is currently investigating this accident, and the West Vincent Township Police Department has secured the scene overnight and will continue their investigation upon daybreak. Right now, there isn't a clear cause of this whole tragedy as of yet."

One witness said that two other hot-air balloons were seen flying in the local skies around the same time.

Gable said that a total of four hot-air balloons were seen in the air Sunday afternoon.

"There was a second hot-air balloon following this hot-air balloon, but it didn't land in the same area," he said. "They were behind the balloon and witnessed what happened, so they went beyond and landed elsewhere."

The hot-air balloon belonged to Air Ventures Hot Air Balloon Flights Inc., owned by Debbie Harding.

According to their Web site, Air Ventures has been in business since 1990, and employs three full-time and part-time office staff, three full-time pilots, four part-time pilots and an active recovery crew of 20. They list that they have three state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line balloons and three recovery vehicles

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Assisting at the scene was Kimberton Fire Company; Spring-Ford Rescue Squad; West End Ambulance; Uwchlan Ambulance; East Whiteland Ambulance; Friendship of Royersford Ambulance and West Vincent Township Police Department.

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