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Three Widely Separated Incidents : Hot-Air Balloons Hit Power Lines, Kill 2

June 07, 1987|From Associated Press

A hot-air balloon at a charity fund-raiser in Maryland, another balloon carrying a recently married couple in North Carolina and a third balloon with passengers on a birthday pleasure ride in Pennsylvania all crashed into power lines Saturday, killing two people and injuring six others, authorities said.

In Gaithersburg, Md., a balloon that was part of a race of 52 balloons to benefit a children's charity struck a 69,000-volt transmission line and crashed, killing a teen-age passenger and injuring her pilot father, Montgomery County police spokesman George Luddington said.

The gondola containing the pilot and his daughter was torn from the balloon, which began to burn when it hit the lines, Luddington said. The gondola then fell about 30 feet, and propane tanks aboard apparently exploded when it hit the ground, he said.

Girl Trapped in Gondola

The pilot, Robert Van Newkirk, 39, of Pittsburgh, Pa., suffered burns on 28% of his body and was listed in serious condition in the burn unit of the Washington Hospital Center. His 16-year-old daughter, Christine Lynn, was trapped in the burning gondola and killed, authorities said.

The balloon was among those used Saturday to help raise money for Kids Inc., a nonprofit group that benefits terminally ill children.

In a similar accident in Charlotte, N.C., a recently married couple were taking a hot-air balloon ride given as a wedding gift when the craft went down in power lines, killing the man. His wife was not hurt, but the pilot suffered electrical burns, authorities said.

The balloon had been aloft about 40 minutes when it became tangled in 13,000-volt power lines, a Cabarrus County Sheriff's Department spokesman said.

Pilot Trying to Land

"He (the pilot) was attempting to land in an open field, and he advised the investigating officer that the sun was in his eyes and he didn't really see the power lines," the spokesman said.

The victim was identified as George Thomas McVaney, 26, of Charlotte. McVaney's wife, Kathy, whom he had married on April 25, was uninjured. The pilot, Steven William Page, 40, suffered electrical burns and was in stable condition at Mercy Hospital.

The third accident occurred in Conestoga, Pa., where a hot-air balloon carrying five people tangled in 7,500-volt electrical wires and fell about 35 feet, authorities said.

The pilot and two passengers were treated for minor injuries at St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster and released. A third passenger, Lois Haas, 58, of York, was in fair condition in the intensive-care unit with a head injury and electrical burns.

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