ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Police and fire crews responded to a fatal hot air balloon crash just after 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning in the area of Central SW and Unser. Officials say four people died in the crash, two men and two women – one of the men was the pilot. The fifth passenger was sent to the hospital in critical unstable condition where he later died from his injuries. This is the deadliest balloon crash in New Mexico’s history.
Authorities say a catastrophic error occurred while in the air and the gondola detached from the envelope. According to witnesses, the gondola crashed into power lines that run east-west along Central near the CVS Pharmacy. The gondola caught fire and crashed into the roadway at Unser Boulevard, south of Central.
“The balloon apparently hit the line, skirted to the west on the top of the power lines and the gondola crashed into the intersection here at Unser and Central,” said Gilbert Gallegos with APD. “We have quite a ballooning community here who are experts at ballooning and navigating balloons, but sometimes the winds kick up and there are other factors that are beyond control.”
Josh Perez was coming out of the gym near Central and Unser when he saw the envelope of the hot air balloon rising on its own without a basket. The basket was just feet away from the intersection, with the propane still going.
“We saw all the people so we rushed to get a fire extinguisher and try to turn off everything so we could get to them,” said Perez. “This one gentleman ran over there and turned it off and the people were already gone. It was already too late.”
Cell phone video taken nearby shows the envelope continue to rise in the air without the passenger basket, before deflating and spiraling back to the ground, eventually landing in a nearby yard. Albuquerque Fire Rescue says the gondola, itself, fell about 100 feet
In a press conference Saturday, Mayor Tim Keller identified two of the victims as former APD and APS officer Martin “Marty” Martinez, 59, and his wife Mary, 62. The remaining victims’ identities will not be released until family members have been contacted.
KRQE News 13 interviewed Martinez back in 2008 when he was an APS field officer. During the press conference, Chief Harold Medina said he remembered Martinez from when he first joined the force.
“There were officers on the scene who I know worked with this individual during the course of their career,” said Medina. “We did have to send a number of officers home because they were a little bit disturbed from what had occurred.”
Officials say the cause of the crash is still under investigation. As a community used to seeing hot air balloons dotting the morning sky, locals say this is a devastating moment the city will never forget.
“Albuquerque has a great heart and this is our tradition,” said Perez. “It’s sad to see a balloon go down like this.”
PNM officials confirmed about 13,777 customers were without power due to the accident. Power was restored shortly after 11:00 a.m.
News 13 reached out to Rainbow Ryders, the popular balloon ride company that operates out of Albuquerque. They confirmed the balloon involved was not a part of their company.
Multiple viewers sent video of the envelope falling from the sky after it had detached from the gondola. None of the below videos show people falling from the balloon.
Police say all five individuals were believed to have been in the gondola when the crash happened. The victims range in ages between 40 and 60 years old.
Central has been reopened, however, Unser remains closed just south of Central due to the ongoing investigation. Motorists are advised to avoid the area. This is a developing story and News 13 will provide updates as they become available.