Two people died tragically yesterday morning as their burning hot air balloon plummeted to the ground and exploded in a fireball during a failed a high-altitude flight.
The man, named locally as experienced balloonist Lee Pibworth, 42, and an unidentified man were flying the balloon at 20,000 and were being monitored by Bristol Air Traffic control when they got into difficulty.
Ground crew – including some family members – watched helplessly as the pilots, both wearing oxygen masks because of the altitude, disappeared into the cloud.
But minutes later the balloon, operated by the Blenheim Balloon Team in
Wiltshire, reappeared with the canopy deflated and literally dropped from the sky.
The balloon’s basket exploded as it hit the ground at Prattens Bowls Club Midsomer Norton, Somerset, killing both pilots instantly.
Two off-duty fire fighters, who were on a bike ride nearby, saw the balloon hit the ground and raced to help – but could not get near to the basket as its four LPG gas cylinders ignited.
A further 19 fire-fighters also battled the flames when they arrived at the scene after being called at 9.49am yesterday.
Detective Inspector Mike Williams from Avon & Somerset police urged witnesses to come forward.
He said: ”An air crash investigation team are currently looking at the
circumstances of this incident to establish the cause.
”We would like to speak to anyone who may have seen the balloon in the air before the incident, or witnessed the balloon come to the ground.
”A man and a woman have tragically lost their lives and we would appreciate any information that anyone may have.”
Sarah Allen, spokeswoman for Avon Fire and Rescue Service, said: ”Fire
fighters used three hose reel jets to put out the fire.
”Four fire appliances and a water carrier attended the scene. The balloon was attempting a high altitude flight and had arranged to fly at 20,000 feet.”
Pauline Dander, club secretary of 55-member Prattens Bowls Club, said the outdoor club ”thankfully” had few visitors during the winter.
She said: ”I wasn’t at the Club when the crash happened but one of our members was. He saw the balloon falling through the sky but didn’t see it hit the ground.
”By the time we arrived at the club the police had sealed it all off.”
A hotel source said most guests had been sleeping off a busy New Year’s Eve party when the crash happened.
She added: ”There were a couple of guests using the golf course and they saw it come down.”
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