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‘Worst case scenario’: Reporter on hot-air balloon crash in New Mexico

By Alaa Elassar and Elizabeth Joseph, CNN

Five people have died following a hot-air balloon crash in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Saturday.

The balloon crashed into a power line around Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard, causing power to go out in the area, Albuquerque Police Department (APD) confirmed on Twitter.

“The balloon hit the top wires — the gondola of the balloon skirted along the top wire, caught on fire and crashed into the intersection,” APD spokesman Gilbert Gallegos told CNN. “Unfortunately when police and fire officials arrived they found four deceased on site.”

A fifth person was critically injured and hospitalized, but succumbed to his injuries, police said. Of the five people that were killed, three were men and two were women, Albuquerque Police confirmed in a statement.

“Liz and I are heartbroken by the ballooning accident this morning,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller tweeted. “This is a terrible tragedy for our city and the ballooning community worldwide.”

Former officer named as one of the victims

Retired APD officer Martin Martinez, 59, and his wife Mary Martinez, 62, were among the deceased, the mayor said at a news conference.

“Their families are experiencing deep suffering right now,” Keller said.

Martinez was working in security for Albuquerque Public Schools, according to Police Chief Harold Medina.

“Sgt. Martinez will forever be remembered for his lifelong dedication, courage, and selflessness to the profession of law enforcement,” the school district said in a written statement. “He had long careers with both the Albuquerque Police Department and the Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department.”

Although Martinez retired from the police force several years ago, a number of active duty officers responding to the scene previously worked with him, according to the chief.

“We did have to send a number of officers home,” Medina said. “It took its toll on them.”

“It’s just a very tragic situation,” Gallegos said, the Albuquerque Journal reported. “Our officers who arrived first on scene had a tough time when they saw what they saw. These things are just horrible anytime they happen.”

Police are not publicly naming the remaining three victims until their families are notified.

The accident remains under investigation

Power has been fully restored to affected customers in the area of the incident, Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) spokesperson Shannon Jackson told CNN.

More than 13,000 people in the area experienced outages as a result of the incident, according to PNM, which bills itself as the state’s largest electric utility company.

“Everyone at PNM is deeply saddened by this tragic loss,” Jackson said. “We are thinking about the family and friends affected by today’s events. We will continue to do everything we can to support first responders in this evolving situation.”

PNM was not able to re-energize the transmission line affected by the crash or restore power until the investigation was complete, Jackson said.

“I’m incredibly saddened to hear of this terrible tragedy in Albuquerque,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham tweeted. “My prayers are with the loved ones of those affected.”

The accident is under investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board.

The FAA identified the aircraft as a Cameron 0-120 hot air balloon.

Hot-air ballooning is a popular recreational activity in Albuquerque. Tthe city’s International Balloon Fiesta is a signature annual event every autumn, with hundreds of balloons participating.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Ganesh Setty, Andy Rose, Chuck Johnston and Kate Trafecante contributed to this report.

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