Three hot air balloon passengers suffered burn injuries when the balloon they were riding in over Napa Valley collided with power lines Monday, April 1.
The hot air balloon, operated by Balloons Above the Valley of Napa, hit the live power lines and the tops of some trees while it was descending. Some of the passengers told San Francisco Bay Area’s KPIX Channel 5 that they knew they were in trouble, but that the pilot seemed “out of it.”
One of the passengers, on vacation from New Jersey, said he thought the balloon pilot was playing an April Fool’s joke on them as the hot air balloon coasted toward the power lines.
“He just never pulled up. He just never operated the balloon. I thought he was going to pull, like seriously, an April Fool’s joke,” the passenger told KPIX 5. “We all thought he was going to give us a scare or something silly. And he … I don’t know what happened. He just flew right into the power lines.”
The passenger told KPIX 5 that the hot air balloon might have hit another set of power lines it was headed toward had the passengers not yelled at him to pull up. He said the pilot finally lifted the balloon but, “It was at our request, not his action. He failed us,” he added. “He didn’t take control of anything.”
At least one of the 19 passengers came into direct contact with the live electrical line. Passengers said that when the hot air balloon hit the line, it dragged it for a distance. After a minute or two, the wire cracked and arced, severely burning one woman.
Once the balloon landed safely, the woman was taken to UC Davis Medical Center’s burn care center in Sacramento for treatment. Two other passengers with less severe burns were taken by ambulance to Napa’s Queen of the Valley Hospital, according to San Francisco’s KTVU Channel 2 News.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the hot air balloon crash. The agency has been slow to adopt new measures that would help prevent hot air balloon accidents, especially when pilot error is involved.
The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved a funding bill for the FAA that will require commercial hot-air balloon pilots to undergo medical exams — a measure prompted by a horrific balloon crash in Texas that killed 16 people near Lockhart, Texas, on July 30, 2016. Donald Trump signed that measure into law in October of last year.