Hot Air Balloon Turns Into “Fireball,” Kills Rider

Witnesses who watched a man die as a hot air balloon burst into flames mid-air, before plunging to the ground, revealed they could not get through when calling 999.

A pilot died when his hot air balloon burst into flames and plummeted to the ground crashing into trees early yesterday.

Witnesses described seeing a ‘fireball’ and hearing screaming coming from the balloon which ‘went up like tissue paper’ in just seconds.

Emergency services were called at 6.20am but the man, aged in his 20s, was pronounced dead at the scene close to the upmarket village of Ombersley, Worcestershire.

The site is also near Grade I listed Ombersley Court, a 300-year-old mansion.

The tragedy happened on the same weekend as the first Worcester Balloon Festival although the downed craft was not connected to the event.

One witness said: ‘There were lots of balloons in the sky because it was clear and sunny despite being so early.

‘Suddenly there was a flash and what looked like a fireball coming from a blue balloon and it just dropped like a stone. My wife heard terrible screaming and then silence.

‘We called the emergency services but had difficulty getting through on the 999 number because it was down.

‘We finally got through but it was just too high for anyone to survive. It was a terrible thing to see.’

Another witness was driving along the A449 from Kidderminster to Worcester when he saw the balloon explode.

He said: ‘I told my partner to take a picture because the balloons looked lovely. Seconds later one of them burst into flames and plummeted to the ground.

‘Once it caught fire it went up like tissue paper, it was burnt in about ten seconds. We couldn’t believe it. We thought from that height there would definitely be a fatality. It fell like a rocket and shook us up to watch.’

Emergency services across the country suffered a technical fault yesterday morning, leading to delays in answering 999 calls.

The crash has been reported to the Air Accident Investigation Branch, which had a team on site yesterday afternoon.

Hundreds of spectators had enjoyed the balloon festival at Worcester racecourse. The event was postponed last month due to bad weather and rearranged for Friday and Saturday.

An event spokesman said the balloon which crashed was independent and not connected to the festival, which finished on Saturday night.

At the weekend, there were two other tragedies as a five-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl died on the coast.

The boy plunged into the harbour at Padstow, Cornwall, from a wall on Saturday morning and was airlifted to hospital in Truro.

He was then transferred to Bristol for treatment but passed away with his parents at his side, police said yesterday. Officers said they were ‘treating this death as a tragic accident’.

There was an outpouring of shock and grief from the community in Padstow.

One local said: ‘That’s so sad. They need to put bars along the harbour wall, it’s so busy there this time of year and it’s a dangerous drop.’

Another added: ‘Time to put some sort of fencing up around these harbours. Big wake-up call.’

The girl died after being pulled from the sea at Cleethorpes beach in Lincolnshire on Saturday.

She was airlifted to hospital with a teenage boy after a major search was launched at around 2pm. He was later discharged from hospital, said police.

Detective Inspector Nathan Reuben said agencies were working to piece together how the tragic accident came about.

‘Our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this incredibly difficult time,’ he added.

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