Witnesses heard pleas for help as balloon fell from sky

By: CBS
By: CBS
A pilot and two passengers were believed to be aboard a hot air balloon that crashed in Virginia Friday night.

AP Photo/Nancy Johnson

CBS - A pilot and two passengers were believed to be aboard a hot air balloon that crashed in Virginia Friday night.

On Saturday morning, police announced that one body was recovered. Search teams worked throughout the night trying to find the wreckage.

Police said the balloon's gondola caught fire after it hit a power line. Witnesses took photos and said they saw flames and heard screaming.

CBS News' Mark Albert reports from Caroline County, Virginia, that the search zone expanded at daybreak for the crash site as well as for the pilot and two women aboard. The area is heavily wooded, and witnesses fear the worst after watching the balloon fall from the sky.

A cell phone video taken by a witness showed the hot air balloon slowly rising as flames lanced upward from the basket. A plume of black smoke rose above it.

Witnesses heard pleas for help.

"You could hear them screaming, 'Please dear God, sweet Jesus, help us. We're going to die. Oh my God, please help us. Please help us,'" Carrie Hager Bradley said.

She said she saw the balloon's gondola come apart.

"It was kind of like a pop, but when that happened the basket exploded and debris started falling to the ground," Bradley said.

Virginia State Police said the fire started when the balloon hit some power lines a little before 8 p.m. Friday at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, about 10 miles north of Richmond, the state capital.

The two passengers aboard were seen jumping from the gondola to escape before it crashed.

Rescue crews struggled to find the wreckage.

"I can't even imagine what those people are going through - to go to this festival and be so excited about a good day and making memories with their family and then not coming home," Bradley said.

The balloon festival was scheduled to continue Saturday and Sunday as well, but organizers have canceled the rest of the events.
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