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Balloon fiesta grounds pilots a day after power line crashes

Associated Press Associated Press 4/10/2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — High winds led Albuquerque balloon fiesta officials to ground pilots Monday, a day after two balloons hit power lines, sparking an explosion and knocking out electricity to hundreds of residents.

The explosion and outage occurred when the "Outlander" alien-themed balloon hit a line Sunday and knocked out power for about 1,200 residents.

Crews with the Public Service Co. of New Mexico had to cut the gondola from the balloon to rescue the pilot and passengers.

"I thought it was just going to go up in flames, but it didn't. Thank God," witness Allen Escobar told KOB-TV in Albuquerque ( ).

Photos and video of the crash posted on social media showed the balloon dangling from utility lines as crews worked to remove it.

No one was injured. The only damage appeared to be a hole in the balloon, officials said.

Another balloon landed on a power line to the south. A photo released by Albuquerque police showed a balloon hanging from a power line.

Balloon Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said a female passenger suffered superficial injuries after the gondola was on the ground. She was treated and released from a hospital, he said.

The 45th Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta began Saturday and is expected to draw close to a million visitors to central New Mexico before it ends Sunday.

Garrity said the fiesta averages about 4,000 balloon launches and landings and rarely sees accidents. "But they happen," he said, adding that he did not have the average number of crashes at each event.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the most recent fatal crash at the fiesta occurred in 2008, when a balloon hit power lines and burst into flames, throwing both men on board to the ground and killing one of them.

The year before, a California woman fell at least 70 feet to her death from a gondola, and three other women were hospitalized after the "Heavenly Ride" balloon hit a utility line.

In 2004, the "Smokey Bear" balloon struck a 50,000-watt radio tower. Two young passengers and the 69-year-old pilot were forced to climb down 60 stories to safety as a breathless audience cheered on below. The three were not physically injured.

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