Two Dead in Balloon Crash Over RV Park
Two people are dead after a hot-air balloon burst into flames during takeoff from its launch pad near Surrey, British Columbia, Friday evening (Aug. 24) – then plunged into a nearby RV park, according to the Vancouver Province.
Police confirmed the deaths, but would only say that the victims appeared to have been two passengers who stayed in the balloon after others leapt to the ground. One of the passengers who jumped to safety said a woman and her daughter were the ones left behind in the basket.
Twelve passengers and a pilot were believed to have been aboard at the time of the accident, which is under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board. Eleven aboard went to the hospital.
Passenger Diana Rutledge, 56, was the last to leap from the basket, which was then some 50 feet in the air.
“It was do or die,” she said from her hospital bed at Royal Columbian Hospital.
“And all the way down, I was thinking, ‘This is gonna really hurt.’“
Rutledge said she landed “like a cat” and broke every bone in her feet, crushed her heels and broke several ribs.
She then watched the flaming balloon drift over Hazelmere RV Park and Campground, the two passengers still inside.
A piece of debris fell and a motorhome exploded and then another motorhome exploded,” Rutledge said.
Surrey firefighter Ted Van Asseldonk was among those who battled the blaze. He described trailers in the park as “matchboxes” made of veneer and particleboard, and said they burned quickly.
“Propane was (also) a major concern,” he said, referring to several tanks sitting in the area of the blaze.
Witnesses said one trailer in the campground was hit by the flaming mass and was fully ablaze within minutes.
The residents, Dean and Arlene Mullin and their two grandchildren, barely had time to escape, they said.
Two vehicles in front of the trailer, Mullin's late-model Ford crew cab and an SUV, also exploded and three other trailers were destroyed.
Dramatic footage taken by area residents shows flames shooting sideways from the balloon's burner and, soon afterward, the basket engulfed in flame and the balloon dropping in a fiery, smoky mass.
“It was terrible, terrible, terrible,” said Pat Richard, who witnessed the crash. “People running, people screaming – and there’s nothing you can do.”
For John and Kathy Reynolds, it was a shocking sight after a week-long Alaskan cruise. One side of their fifth-wheel seemed fine; the other was burned away and the interior destroyed.
“Everything’s gone,” John said. “I got one lousy pair of jeans left. We just got back from our cruise and this is what we come back to.”