www.whyville.net Aug 29, 2007 Weekly Issue

Guest Writer

A Tragic Balloon Ride

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Most of you must know about the tragic accident that happened in B.C. 2 days ago. A helium balloon caught fire with 13 people on it.

Police have confirmed two people are dead and eleven injured after a hot-air balloon caught fire in mid-air before crashing to the ground in a trailer park in Surrey, B.C. There were 12 passengers and a pilot on board at the time of the accident. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the accident and confirmed the people who were fatally wounded were passengers and not people on the ground. One passenger remains in critical condition.

These are just some of the pictures of the tragic moment that most witnessed.

"We are expecting to interview the operator's crew to get more detailed information as to what happened and what procedures were in place so we can try to determine the cause," Bill Yearwood, a spokesperson from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, told CTV's Newsnet on Saturday. Stephen Harris, a spokesperson from Fraser Health told CTV Newsnet that four of the injured were transported to the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C.

Harris said those who did not require high-level trauma care were taken to local hospitals in the Vancouver area. "Two of the patients arrived with burn injuries and two patients arrived with injuries sustained in the fall from the balloon," Harris said on Saturday.

"The injuries are quite severe and quite serious. The patients, at this point, are reported as being in stable condition which is good news, but certainly a very frightening and dangerous situation." Harris said one of the burn victims will likely be transported to Vancouver General Hospital to receive specialized burn care.

"From what I understand, there were cuts, bruises and some fractures because of the people jumping out of the hot-air balloon," Betty Nicholson, a spokesperson from B.C. Ambulance Service, told CTV Newsnet on Saturday.

"Two helicopters took three patients to different hospitals with serious injuries." Six ambulances, two air ambulances and eight fire trucks raced to the scene at the Hazelmere RV Park & Campground on the outskirts of Vancouver on Friday night. Smoke could be seen billowing from the crash site from kilometers away.

According to witnesses, the balloon was about 25 feet off the ground when it caught fire just before sundown. "I was watching the whole thing lift off, it ignited while they were in the basket 25 feet off the ground, it just went up all in flames," said one witness. "It was horrifying looking at people screaming, jumping out of there," said another witness.

A woman across the street from the campsite told CTV she saw flames engulf the hot air balloon's basket. The fire spread to the ropes attaching the basket to the balloon. The rope then snapped and the basket dropped to the ground.

"(The witness) said people were on fire, they were dropping to the ground, there were a number of people who clearly were in distress, on fire from this burning balloon," said CTV's Shannon Patterson from the scene. "Even worse, when the balloon landed on the ground, one of its propane tanks shot out from the side of the balloon and hit a mobile home in the RV park." Police confirmed that up to three, large 40-foot trailers caught fire after being hit by exploding propane tanks. Nobody was hurt in those fires, although Patterson reports three families have been left homeless.

The cause of the accident is not yet known. Weather conditions were clear at the time of the sunset flight. The hot-air balloon, operated by Fantasy Balloons Charters based in Langley, B.C., was one of several balloons in flight at the time. A company spokesperson told the Canadian Press he doesn't know why the balloon caught fire shortly after takeoff.

"The company deeply regrets this evening's incident and all injuries associated with it (and) inconvenience to those people being displaced,'' John K. George said. Yearwood confirmed the pilot, who was injured in the accident, was the owner and operator of the company. A similar incident occurred earlier this month in Manitoba, where 12 people were injured, with some suffering second- and third-degree burns.

Thanks for taking your time to read this. -shockerr


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