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A Tragic Hot Air Balloon Crash In New Mexico Killed Five People

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Tragedy has befallen the tight-knit community of Albuquerque, New Mexico. On Saturday, a hot air balloon crash killed five people–four passengers and the pilot. Investigators are looking into the accident, but as of now, the cause of the accident is unknown.

On Saturday, bystanders were stunned as they saw a hot air balloon gondola (the basket that carries the passengers) crash into power lines near a busy intersection.

As soon as the gondola hit the power lines, it caught fire and crashed into the street. Some bystanders rushed to the scene with fire extinguishers, but it was already too late. “You could just see them on the ground,” bystander Joshua Perez told KOB. “No one was moving.” Many different bystanders recorded the accident.

First responders rushed the lone survivor of the initial crash, John Montoya, to the hospital with critical injuries. He later died of his injuries. The other victims of the crash were Susan Montoya, 65; Martin Martinez, 62; Mary Martinez, 59; Nicholas Meleski, 62. Meleski was the pilot.

Albuquerque has an active ballooning community. The city has an annual ballooning event every October in which participants and spectators gather from all over the world.

“This is a tragedy that is uniquely felt and hits uniquely hard at home here in Albuquerque and in the ballooning community,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller. He added: “There are always things that can happen, whether it’s wind, whether it’s equipment, and it’s something that our pilots always trained for.”

One of the victims, Martin Martinez, had previously worked for the Albuquerque police department as a bicycle patrol officer. Most recently, he was a sergeant for a local school district’s police force. Some of first-responders who arrived on scene knew Martinez and had worked with him before. Some were so upset that they couldn’t work at the scene.

While hot air balloon rides are mostly safe, there are freak accidents once in a while.

“Our balloonists tend to be very much experts at navigating, but sometimes we have these types of tragic accidents,” said police spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos in a statement.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, there have been 12 fatal hot air ballooning accidents since 2008. Most recently, a man died in January after being “ejected” from the gondola and falling to the ground. That accident also happened near Albuquerque.

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