Balloon catches fire
Contributed Photo By Carlos Acuna: Utility employees work on the power line draped by the hot air balloon “Just Ducky” by AZ Air Ventures.
By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – The occupants of a hot air balloon received a shocking end to their ride Sunday morning when the balloon collided with utility lines off Reay Lane and caught fire just after 7 a.m.
According to Graham County Sergeant Jacob Carpenter, the balloon – operated by AZ Air Ventures – experienced a mechanical malfunction and lost thrust. Crew members attempted to avoid the power station along Reay Lane, however, when doing so, the balloon clipped a utility line upon its descent. The broken utility wire then caught the balloon on fire and the occupants of the balloon used an onboard fire extinguisher to put out the blaze, according to Sgt. Carpenter.
AZ Air Ventures offers various ride packages offering stunning views of the Gila Valley. Pilot Greg Lindsey told the Gila Herald that his wife Susan was piloting “Just Ducky” when it hit the power lines and he was in a different balloon. He said they were still at the site waiting for Federal Aviation Association (FAA) approval to remove the balloon. “Just Ducky” is 75 feet tall by 55 feet wide and holds 90,000 cubic feet of air.
Carpenter reported two of the three occupants of the balloon received minor burns from the sparking utility line but they declined medical treatment offered by paramedics.
As of 8:25 a.m., the power was still out along a portion of Reay Lane, and they were still awaiting approval from the Federal Aviation Association before moving the balloon. A crew from the Graham County Electric Cooperative is working on restoring the power.
The Graham County Sheriff’s Office was joined at the scene by the Thatcher Fire Department and law enforcement from Safford, Thatcher, and Pima.