A hot air balloon hit a power line and crashed onto a busy street in Albuquerque on Saturday, killing all five people on board, including the parents of an Albuquerque police officer, police said.
The crash happened around 7 a.m. in the city’s west side, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. Police identified two of the passengers as Martin Martinez, 59, and Mary Martinez, 62 — the parents of a prison transport officer with the Albuquerque Police Department.
Police did not immediately release the others’ names but said the male pilot, and a female and male passenger were from central New Mexico.
Martin Martinez also had worked for Albuquerque police on bicycle patrol but most recently was a sergeant with the local school district’s police force, authorities said. Some Albuquerque officers who responded to the crash had worked with him and were sent home because it took a toll on them, said police Chief Harold Medina.
“It really emphasized the point that no matter how big we think we are, we’re still a tightknit community and incidents like this affect us all,” Medina said.
The Albuquerque Public Schools District said Martin Martinez “will forever be remembered for his lifelong dedication, courage and selflessness to the profession of law enforcement.”
The intersection where the balloon crashed was still cordoned off late Saturday afternoon. The multi-colored balloon had skirted the top of the power lines, sending at least one dangling and temporarily knocking out power to more than 13,000 homes, said police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos.
The gondola fell about 100 feet (30 meters) and crashed in the street’s median, catching on fire, the Federal Aviation Administration said. Bystanders frantically called out for a fire extinguisher to put out the flames and prayed aloud, video posted online showed.
The envelope of the balloon floated away, eventually landing on a residential rooftop, Gallegos said. The FAA did not immediately have registration details for the balloon but identified it as a Cameron 0-120.
Authorities haven’t determined what caused the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board sent two investigators to the scene Saturday who will look into the pilot, the balloon itself and the operating environment, said spokesman Peter Knudson. A preliminary report typically is available in a couple of weeks.
Gallegos said hot air balloons can be difficult to manage, particularly when the wind kicks up.