August 11, 2007 at 10:43 PM EDT
WINNIPEG — Transport Canada investigators say they believe high winds may have played a role in a hot air balloon crash near Winnipeg that sent three people to hospital.
Just after 9 a.m. Saturday, the balloon landed in a farmer's field about 30 minutes northeast of the city with 12 people on board. Witnesses said the balloon's basket flipped, a rope caught fire, then the entire balloon burst in flames.
“There was black smoke everywhere,” said Derek Heidinger, who ran to help victims after flames died down.
Another witness, Wes Lesard, said there was a ball of flames as high as a fully inflated hot air balloon.
“The pilot was trying to run back into the fire,” Mr. Lesard said. “He was so much in shock that I had to tackle him to get him back down.”
Mr. Lesard and his partner, Jackie Arbez, who are both nurses, said they treated one badly-burned man for shock while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
The man and another passenger were sent to a Winnipeg hospital with serious burns. Their conditions were upgraded from critical to stable within hours of the crash. Another person was also taken to hospital, while the nine other passengers were treated for minor injuries.
Transport Canada, which is now investigating the cause of the crash, said the balloon left a park on the south side of Winnipeg at 7:30 a.m. Peter Hildebrand with Transport Canada told Global TV Winnipeg that high winds likely caused the pilot to make an emergency landing about an hour-and-a-half later.
Mr. Hildebrand said investigators are looking at the registration documents of the balloon's owner, Sundance Balloons, to see if too many passengers were being carried.
Hot air balloon crashes have been relatively rare in Canada. In 2005, five people were injured in Caledon, Ont. after the hot air balloon they were in crash landed. In 1989, a pilot was killed when his balloon struck a power line and fell to the ground in flames near downtown Calgary. There was no one else on board.
Ontario-based Sundance Balloons operates 14 offices in Ontario and the western provinces.