A hot air balloon carrying three people caught fire mid-flight and crashed Friday evening during a festival in Richmond, Virginia, after eyewitnesses said they heard screams for help.
Police spent all night searching for the wreckage and survivors but have now officially switched from a search and rescue to a recovery mission after finding one of the three remains.
The fire was so destructive, however, that they are unable to tell which of the three passengers it is, so have sent the remains to the Office of the State Medical Examiner for a positive identification as they continue to look for the other two.
'Because of the time that has transpired since the hot air balloon crash Friday evening and the fact that we have not been able to make any contact with any of the three occupants that were in the hot air balloon we are now transitioning from a rescue operation to a recovery operation at this time,'
State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Saturday morning.
Just before midnight we were able to locate one of the occupants.
'We do know who was on the - the two passengers and the pilot- we have been in contact with their families overnight but at this point we are not going to identify which one of those occupants has been recovered.'
The incident took place at around 8pm at the Meadow Event Park in Caroline County - the site of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival.
An eyewitness reported seeing one or two balloons drifting into power lines and bursting into flames in the skies over Carmel Church Road.
Three balloons took off at the same time and the first two had no issues with their landing, but that wasn't the case for the third.
'As the third balloon made it's descent, it made contact with a live utility wire. That in turn sparked a fire with the hot air balloon,' Ms Geller said.
'The fire spread quickly the pilot of the hot air balloon, based on witness accounts and the other pilots who were on the ground, began doing his various safety maneuvers and trying to manage the fire.'
She said that witnesses saw the pilot 'try to open up the top of the balloon which is standard procedure because the added heat and intensity of the fire will actually make the balloon rise faster so he was taking every effort he could to manage and extinguish the fire.'
People who were present at the event recalled seeing some passengers leaping from the basket.
'According to witnesses they say they heard an explosion and it was after that that the basket and the balloon actually separated,' Ms Geller said.
'We are still in the process- and we spent all night- searching for the wreckage, the basket, the balloon.'
Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery store and heard people yelling, according to WWBT TV.
'They were just screaming for anybody to help them,' the station quoted her as saying.
'"Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,"' Hager-Bradley said she heard one person screaming.
‘We saw black smoke coming from an object,’ eyewitness Cole Holocker told NBC News.
‘Couldn't tell what it was. We thought it might be exhaust from a helicopter around the base and then, when we came close to it, we could see it was a balloon.’
The 18-year-old college student added that he saw the structure of the balloon collapse before it plummeted to the ground, landing behind the tree line.
Festival goer Nancy Johnson posted a photo on her Instagram account showing the ill-fated balloon right before the fire.
Some hot air balloons landed safely in Debra Ferguson's yard, she was quoted by The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg, Virginia, as saying.
She said one of the men in the balloons pointed up at another still in the air and said he thought it might be in trouble.
'As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there,' the newspaper quoted Ferguson as saying. "All I heard was, "Oh my God, Oh my God," and all you saw was the top of the balloon still flying, but all of the basket was gone. All of the flames just disappeared. ... It was like a match — poof — and then it was gone.'
Caroline County resident Paula Dustin said she and her family and a friend were watching the balloons inflate and take off when they saw one in the distance that appeared to be in distress.
'We saw a glow, and you could tell the bottom of the balloon was in flames,' Dustin was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
A website dedicated to the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival says tonight was supposed to be a special happy hour for up to 1,500 advanced ticket holders to watch balloon teams take off.
In the aftermath of the crash, the festival that was supposed to take place for the first time Saturday and Sunday has been canceled.
The park where the event was supposed to take place is best known for being the birthplace of Triple Crown winning racing horse Secretariat. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...#ixzz31KJY3EFg