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Tragic hot air balloon crash doesn’t mean you need to avoid future rides

Sad, tragic news: At least 16 people are dead after a hot air balloon crashed in Lockhart, Texas, today. The crash happened at about 7:40 a.m. in a pasture in the Caldwell County city, which is located 30 miles south of Austin. Although Lynn Lunsford of the Federal Aviation Administration confirmed 16 deaths, an exact number of crash victims has not been provided yet.

There’s a lot of information that is still unknown about this horrific incident. The name of the company that operated the hot air balloon and the point where the balloon originated have not been released. The names and ages of the victims, or info about whether they were friends or relatives, will likely not be made public until all of the victims have been identified and their families notified.

Margaret Wiley, who lives a quarter-mile away from the crash zone, told police she heard a “pop, pop, pop” while she was letting her dog outside this morning. “I looked around and it was like a fireball going up,” she said. The basket part of the balloon reportedly caught fire, though details about what caused the fire have not been released. The pasture where the crash took place contains corn crops, cattle and a row of high-capacity electric transmission lines that are four or five stories tall.

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Texas Governor Gregg Abbott released a statement about the accident: 

Hot air balloon rides are apparently quite common in that part of Texas and in many other areas of the country where skies are usually clear and panoramic views are abundant. A voyage in a hot air balloon often tops an adventure seeker’s list of must-do experiences. But when we hear about tragedies like this one, it’s natural to consider the fragility of a hot air balloon and how it doesn’t seem all that natural to rely on one to keep us up in the air.

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However, statistics prove that hot air balloon rides aren’t as dangerous as they sometimes seem. From 2002 to 2012, there were 148 hot air balloon accidents (0.79 percent of all rides reported); of those accidents, 14 were fatal, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Going back in time even farther: The NTSB has investigated 775 hot air balloon incidents since 1964, 70 of which involved fatalities. Every life lost is a tragedy, and what happened in Lockhart is terrible. But if you’re the kind of person who feels relief when you board an airplane, when you remember that you are more likely to die of heart disease or food poisoning than in a plane crash, allow these hot air balloon stats to ease your mind.

And here’s another interesting tidbit: Balloons may seem, to most of us, like little more than the toys and decorations we plop around the room at a child’s party. But people have been flying around in hot air balloons since 1783, which was 120 years before the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in 1903. The pilots of these balloons must be certified, and each balloon is inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration once a year or after every 100 hours of flight time. All hot air balloons in the United States, which use propane gas to heat the air that allows them to rise, are built with FAA guidelines in mind.

In other words, hot air ballooning has a lot more in common with flying on an airplane than you might have thought.

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