A passenger who was on board one of three hot air balloons that crashed and injured more than a dozen people in Wyoming has described how he was dragged and slammed into the ground during the terrifying ordeal.
The balloons, which are all owned by the Wyoming Balloon Company, went down separately and did not crash into each other near Teton Village, a popular western Wyoming tourist destination, on Monday.
Between 16 and 20 people were injured in the crashes with one person airlifted to a hospital in Idaho and at least five others taken away via ambulance.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration are currently investigating the crashes, which occurred on a less than half-a-mile stretch.
Clinton Phillips, who was visiting from Austin, Texas, was on one of the balloons with 20 others, including his wife and children.
Phillips told the New York Times that right before the terror kicked in, he had been taking in the views and thinking: ‘This is the greatest thing we’ve ever done as a family.’
He said the ordeal, which unfolded about 45 minutes into the flight, went from ‘amazing to disastrous’ within minutes.
They watched on as the two balloons ahead of them got picked up by a huge wind gust and started tossing them around.
Phillips said they were so distracted watching the other two balloons when the wind suddenly started knocking them about.
As their balloon inched closer to the ground, Phillips said: ‘I looked past my wife and I just screamed, “Brace for impact!”‘
‘I was dragged, slamming into the ground four times, for 200 yards. You didn’t know when it was going to stop.’
Phillips said his son had to cling on to make sure he stayed inside the balloon’s cage as they skidded along the ground.
‘His arm could have been ripped off,’ Phillips said. ‘If anyone had fallen out, I think they would have been killed, because the cage is so hard and heavy, it would have crushed you.’
He said one of his daughters fainted during the ordeal and his other daughter only managed to stay in the cage because she was crushed underneath other people.
Phillips said his wife thought she had broken her ribs.
The three balloons were carrying a total of 38 passengers when they crashed.
The president of the company, Andrew Breffeilh, who was flying one of the balloons at the time, said the forecast had only called for light winds.
Breffeilh said while high wind landings occur frequently, he admitted that the landings on Monday were more severe than usual.
‘High-wind landings happen every day,’ he said. ‘Every high-wind landing looks like a crash… It skids and bounces.
‘Considering the conditions we were in, there could have been worse results in winds that strong.
‘The most important thing is to get them down as quickly and safely as possible.’
Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr said weather may have contributed to the crashes but exactly what happened wasn’t known and was still being investigated.
The weather in Jackson Hole, near Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, was partly cloudy with winds of 9 mph shortly after the accident.