JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Three sightseeing hot air balloons crashed this week in western Wyoming because of an unexpected downdraft during a freak storm, according to the balloon company owner.
The crashes on Monday injured more than a dozen people and 11 were treated at hospitals.
“I just want to express my sorrow and regret that anybody was hurt,” Wyoming Balloon Company owner Andrew Breffeilh, who was piloting one of the balloons, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide in a story published Wednesday.
Ten people taken to a hospital primarily had minor lacerations and orthopedic-type injuries to wrists, shoulders and ankles. All were released Monday and Tuesday, hospital spokeswoman Karen Connelly said.
One passenger with a head injury was flown to an Idaho hospital but the person’s identity and condition weren’t publicly available.
Some balloon passengers recalled trying to land the balloon they were in after their pilot was thrown from the balloon’s basket to the ground. Others said they couldn’t believe they survived .
“We could have died,” said Alexis Krayevsky, 18. “It was so scary.”
No passengers were previously hurt in his 31 years of owning the company, Breffeilh said.
“It’s been a point of pride for me,” Breffeilh said. “We really care about our passengers enough to give up a lot of days and just not allow ourselves to get them into this kind of situation. And somehow or another, we did.”
More than 30 people were aboard the balloons when the severe downdraft drove them into a field in Jackson Hole, Breffeilh said.
Alexis Krayevsky’s 12-year-old brother, Robert, said he began to get concerned about darkening clouds while they were preparing to board.
“I was saying there were dark clouds and it was windy,” Robert said after the crash. “But no one was listening. I don’t know why they didn’t cancel it.”
Breffeilh said his team observes the sky every day before launching their balloons.
“This was another clear weather day, high pressure and everything, and this freak storm wasn’t in the forecast,” he said.
A copy of a forecast that Breffeilh provided to the News & Guide called for weather that was “probably ideal” for flying, Meteorologist Jim Woodmencey of the Mountain Weather company in Jackson said a downdraft under the forecast conditions would have been difficult to anticipate.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration were investigating the crashes. FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said Wyoming Balloon Company wasn’t prohibited from flying during the investigation.
The business planned a safety review and wasn’t going to make any “hasty decisions” about returning to flight, Breffeilh said.