Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Rosemary Wooley Phillips Falls 70 Feet From Hot Air Balloon Piloted by Tom Reyes
Up, up and a way in our beautiful balloon. A peaceful idea as long as you don't get caught up in utility lines. "...this is difficult for all of us," said Gary Bennett, president of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. "Heavenly Ride" ( the name of the balloon in photograph courtesy of the A.P.) unfortunately lived up to its name when it hit a a utility line at 7:45 a.m. Monday. The pilot threw down a tether to a pickup truck in an apparent attempt to lower the balloon. Unfortunately, the tether broke and the balloon bounced back up. The gondola (basket) tipped and Rosemary Wooley, age 60, fell more than 70 feet to her death. "It probably was a lot higher than that," state police Sgt. Kevin Bruno said.
Eye witness, Bill Birkley of Albuquerque said, "She was screaming and flailing her arms." The balloon came free and landed across a road near Interstate 25 in New Mexico. Two women in the basket broke legs and another had minor bumps and bruises. Sheryl Diaz, 60; Susan Simpson, 57; and Doris Currier, 52, were all admitted to University Hospital. The balloon pilot sustained only minor scratches. Rainbow Ryders spokesperson, Scott Appleman, said pilot Tom Reyes had 30 years' experience and more than 1,900 flying hours. "Wind is part of the unknown. Weather is part of the unknown, relative to hot air ballooning, all the time," Appleman said.
During the 1998 event, one woman was killed when a balloon plowed into two sets of power lines. During the 1993 fiesta, two men were killed when their balloon hit power lines, severing the gondola. Two died during the 1990 fiesta when their balloon crashed into power lines and burst into flames. Four people died and five were injured during the 1982 fiesta when propane tanks on a large balloon exploded. Balloonists, however, argue that fatalities are rare and that their sport is not particularly dangerous. "It's no riskier than driving a car," said pilot Anthony Haynes of Houston.