The Federal Aviation Administration said a hot air balloon struck a power line, caught fire and crashed to the ground Friday, leaving the three people inside the burning gondola unaccounted for on the eve of an inaugural balloon festival in Doswell, Va.
The incident occurred between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. EDT amid a "Friday Flights Happy Hour" event. Glowing balloons were to be the centerpiece of a kickoff event for the first Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, which organizers said was now canceled.
At least three hours after photos from the scene showed a balloon smoking and engulfed in flames, authorities were still searching for the two passengers and pilot.
"It was very sudden," a witness, Nancy Johnson, told the Los Angeles Times via Instagram. "One minute, they were hovering in field. The next, everyone was pointing at the sky...All went quiet."
A spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police said the search would continue through the night as necessary. But organizers said police were not immediately able to launch aircraft to assist with the search because of bad weather in Richmond, the major city to the south of the incident.
"The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival regrets that there was a safety incident involving one of the balloons participating," said event spokesman Norm Hyde, who also works for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, in a statement.