Hot air balloon with 16 aboard crashes in Texas; no survivors
By Steven Visser, Ralph Ellis and John Newsome CNN
(CNN) -- A hot air balloon carrying 16 people crashed in central Texas after catching fire in the air Saturday morning, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
There were no survivors in the crash near Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin, the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office said.
Here's the latest information on the crash:
Two sources told CNN the balloon may have struck power lines.
Caldwell County Judge Ken Schawe said information on cause is very limited but that it appears the balloon collided with a power line before catching fire and crashing to the ground.
A source with the Texas Department of Public Safety earlier told CNN's Polo Sandoval that investigators believe the hot air balloon struck power lines and caught fire. This is the preliminary working theory, the source said.
Law enforcement officers responded to a 911 call at 7:44 a.m. (8:44 a.m. ET) about a possible auto accident in the Maxwell area, according to a statement on the Caldwell County Office of Emergency Management's Facebook page. Officers found the balloon basket on fire on the ground, the statement said.
"First I heard a whoosh," Margaret Wylie, who lives near the crash site, told CNN affiliate TWC. "And then a big ball of fire (went) up. I'd say it got as high up as those lower electric lines."
An National Transportation Safety Board spokesman held a brief news conference near the scene Saturday afternoon, saying the accident involved a "significant loss of life," although he would not give an exact number. "There were a number of fatalities," he said.
The NTSB says it is working with the FBI to document the scene, which is now secured for evidence collection.
"This will be a difficult site for us to work through," the NTSB spokesman said.
The area where it happened lies between Austin and San Antonio and is popular for weekend excursions such as ballooning or skydiving, according to CNN's Ed Lavandera.
If there are 16 fatalities, it would be an unprecedented death toll for a hot air balloon crash in the United States. The highest number of deaths in a single hot air balloon crash in the country before Saturday was six, in a 1993 accident in Colorado, according to the NTSB.
Christopher O'Neill of NTSB Public Affairs said 16 is "the maximum number of passengers allowed under federal regulations governing" hot air balloon operations.
O'Neill provided a timetable for part of the investigation. Several days will be spent on field work -- interviewing people and gathering evidence at the scene. Seven to 10 days after field work ends, the agency will issue a preliminary report "that's basically a snapshot of what facts do we know at that point in time." The preliminary report will not include a probable cause of the crash, he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott expressed his condolences to the victims' families.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas issued this statement: "Heidi and I lift up in prayer all who have been impacted by today's tragic accident in Lockhart and send our condolences to all who have lost their loved ones. As always, Texans are strong in the face of adversity, and we all stand together in support of the families and entire Lockhart community as they respond to and begin to heal from this terrible incident."
In 2013, 19 people died in a hot air balloon crash in Egypt, near the ancient city of Luxor. That was the world's most fatal hot air balloon accident in at least 20 years.
The FAA and the NTSB are investigating the Texas crash.
CNN's Daniel Lewis contributed to this report
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