Four people were killed and 28 injured, including eight seriously, when a hot-air balloon crashed and caught fire south of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana early Thursday, authorities said.
Officials said the crash occurred around 8:00 am local time (0600 GMT), near the town of Ig, some 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) south of the capital. The balloon was carrying 30 passengers along with the pilot and co-pilot.
"First findings indicate the accident happened due to sudden strong winds close to the ground" and this "caused problems in manoeuvering the balloon," said Roman Rovancek, the head of the accident investigation office at the infrastructure ministry.
No immediate information was given on the dead, but the injured included two British citizens and two Italians, all of whom were hospitalised, police spokeswoman Maja Adlesic said.
A disaster agency spokesman told Slovenian news agency STA in Ig that "the first doctor who arrived at the accident site confirmed he found four charred bodies."
STA reported the hot-air balloon burst into flames after it was caught in a storm. Another airborne balloon landed safely further away.
"There was a storm raging at the time of the accident. The balloons tried to land but were thrown about by turbulence. That's when one of them caught fire," one witness was quoted as saying by the web portal siol.net.
One passenger who was lightly injured, Tomaz Simnec, told news website 24ur: "The landing was too fast, we hit the ground, rebounded, and then hit the ground again. During the second 'landing' five of us fell out of the basket."
He added that he lost consciousness after falling out.
Police spokeswoman Adlesic said three of the balloon's 32 passengers were children, after police had earlier said six children were on board. It was unclear whether any had been killed.
At a news conference, the Ljubljana Clinical Centre confirmed that 21 passengers had been hospitalised there, of whom "eight remain in critical condition."
"Those hospitalised are aged between 10 and 60 years old, some of them are foreigners," traumatologist Anze Kristan, who helped treat the injured passengers, told journalists.
Other reports said the balloon hit a tree before catching fire, and that some of the passengers jumped out when it went up in flames. The accident occurred in a field surrounded by forests.
Experts questioned the decision to take off when a storm was brewing.
While no bad weather had been predicted overnight "any pilot should have checked the forecast before taking off," Brane Gregorcic, a meteorologist at the environment agency, told journalists, adding that when the balloon took off at around 7.00 am "storms were visible."
Slovena's Defence and Interior ministers Ales Hojs and Vinko Gorenak both visited the crash site, while Prime Minister Janez Jansa and President Danilo Turk expressed their condolences.
Turk vowed: "All necessary services have been engaged and they will do whatever they can to prevent an increase of the number of victims."
by Nick Morrison Â© 2012 AFP
Date: Aug 23, 2012