WEST VINCENT -- Police and fire officials were back at the scene of the tragic accident where one person...
By DENNIS J. WRIGHT
WEST VINCENT -- Police and fire officials were back at the scene of the tragic accident where one person died and seven others were injured after a hot-air balloon burst into flames upon landing along Kimberton Road Sunday evening.
Authorities released the names of the people who were inside the basket of the balloon.
The pilot, Earl Macpherson, 67, of Pennsville, N.J, died on the scene. The passengers were identified as Scottie Owens, Liem McGuckin, Kristen McShay, Kevin McShay, John Conboy, Nancy Zoeltsch and Bethany Zoeltsch.
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.
Macpherson 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. They each sustained various injuries, along with several different degrees of burns on their bodies.
Barbara Berry, the homeowner where the ballon landed, said that she was making dinner for her family when she noticed a hot-air balloon cast a shadow in her window.
"We're always seeing balloons flying over the house," said Berry. "They never land in my yard. They come really close to here but they always seem to land over the hill from us."
Excited over the possibility of seeing a balloon land in their yard, Berry said she and her daughters ran outside to see it.
"It was such a beautiful afternoon and we were excited to see it," she said.
The excitement soon turned to horror as Berry said she noticed the balloon was in flames prior to its landing.
"The balloon was in flames as it was landing," she said. "I could see it through the trees as we were running out. We heard people yelling and screaming. The basket bumped and skidded as it landed. The flames were 10- to 15-feet high. It was clearly not just the flame that works the balloon."
After seeing one of the female passengers dive out of the basket head first, Berry said she and her daughters went to work on helping the victims.
"My first instinct was to help them and get them into the house," she said. "Once they all walked in, we could see they were badly burned. I didn't realize that it was seven people. We were here and we wanted to help."
Berry's daughter Liv Jancic, 12, said the passengers were lucky to have landed where they did.
"It is lucky that they landed in our yard so we could take care of them," she said. "They could've landed in a tree. We began with cold wet towels and applied them to their burns. I kept handing out wet towels. No one was panicking. They were crying and upset. They were calling
family members. One older gentleman was laying down. He couldn't hold a glass of water."
Berry said that she and Liv were inside the house for quite some time taking care of the passengers.
"This was scary for all of us," she said. "All of a sudden, helicopters, police and ambulances started coming up the driveway."
Jancic said that paramedics started coming into their house to treat the passengers.
"We were told that the pilot had passed away," she said. "They checked the house and woods to make sure no one else had wandered off. They did a thorough check of the property."
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."
Barry said that she was informed that the balloon was landing approximately one hour after it went in the air.
"We were told it was landing due to an emergency," she said.
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 hot-air balloon belonged to Air Ventures Hot Air Balloon Flights Inc., owned by Debbie Harding.
Two members of Anglin Aircraft Recovery Services, LLC, of Clayton, Delaware, removed the remnants of the hot-air balloon from the scene Monday afternoon.
A major portion of the balloon section was still intact, but charred in several sections and still smelling of smoke.
An insurance adjuster was also on scene to discuss the situation with Berry.
"We're trying to get over what has happened," she said. "It's been a scary experience for all of us."
Jancic said that she used to ask her mother about the prospect of riding in a hot air balloon.
"We used to ask her all of the time if we could go on one," she said. "Now I don't ever want to go on one. Anything can happen, especially after being involved with an experience like this one."
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.