A wind gust may have pushed a hot air balloon into power lines that apparently severed the balloon's gas bag from its gondola, which fell 50 feet and killed one passenger and injured eight others, including a man and woman from Placentia, officials said Sunday.
The balloon, carrying tourists over a scenic mountain area, came down in knee-deep snow about a mile from Interstate 80, and many passing motorists stopped and hiked to the crash site to help.
Several propane tanks aboard the basket-like gondola exploded and burned in the crash, said Summit County Fire Marshal Sam Coleman.
Officials of the Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the accident, the Summit County Sheriff's Department said.
The balloon, operated by Balloon the Rockies Inc. of Park City, struck the power lines Saturday morning about a mile east of this Wasatch Mountains community. Summit Park is 20 miles east of Salt Lake City.
Coleman said it appeared that the balloon had just cleared a mountain crest when a wind gust pushed it into the high-voltage power lines, which apparently cut the gondola's guidelines.
Officials for Balloon the Rockies declined comment Saturday, and telephone calls to the company were not answered Sunday.
The AX-10 category hot-air balloon, one of the largest used for recreational purposes, stands about 100 feet tall and can carry about 10 passengers, according to the American Balloon Federation.
The injured--five men and three women--were flown by helicopters to three Salt Lake City hospitals.
James David Farrell, age unknown, of Henderson, Nev., suffered internal injuries and burns and was pronounced dead at the scene by a doctor who had run across the freeway and hiked to the crash site, said Sheriff's Detective Joe Offret.
Debbie Hamlin, 31, of Placentia was in critical condition Sunday following surgery at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, said nursing supervisor Lynn Evans. Hamlin suffered head and internal injuries. William Hamlin, 34, of Placentia suffered knee and ankle injuries and is in satisfactory condition at Holy Cross Hospital, according to a nursing supervisor there who did not want to be identified.
Farrell's wife Kelly, 31, was in fair condition with a fractured pelvis at the Health Sciences Center. Alice Lindahl, 35, of Ashland City, Tenn., was in serious but improving condition with a broken leg and ribs, Evans said.
Two other men were listed in satisfactory condition at Holy Cross Hospital, said the nursing supervisor. They were identified as the pilot, Brian Mills, 29, of Park City, who had apparent chest injuries, and John Lindahl, 38, of Ashland City, Tenn., admitted with possible chest injuries.
Gary Lawton, 30, of Park City, a student pilot, was in satisfactory condition with back injuries at LDS Hospital, said a nursing supervisor who declined to give her name. Rick Hawk, 30, of Nashville, Tenn., was in serious condition with a broken leg and ribs.