Hot Air Balloon Hits Power Line in Mass. Neighborhood

July 21--A hot air balloon named Raspberry Ripple sparked a terrifying explosion as it slammed into power lines in a Clinton neighborhood Saturday night, injuring three of the seven people on board.

"All I heard was a loud, long buzzing noise and my lights flickered," said Patricia Houck, who was home watching a movie at 7:40 p.m. when the balloon hit the power lines at Brook and Greeley streets. She and her neighbors poured out of their houses to help.

"There were people running all over the place trying to figure out what was going on," she said. "We could see people going over with ice bags trying to help the victims who were burned. When they were bringing one woman out, we all cheered for her. They were lucky."

The balloon is registered to Derald Earle Young, 66, of Damn Yankee Balloons in Dixfield, Maine, Federal Aviation Administration records show. Efforts to reach Young, a certified commercial pilot, and Joy, his wife and crew chief, were unsuccessful. Raspberry Ripple was due to fly in next month's Crown of Maine Balloon Festival in Presque Isle.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said seven people were on board the pink- and purple-checkered balloon. Clinton Hospital spokeswoman Jodie Grady said three people were brought to the emergency room. One was treated and released and two others transferred to another medical facility.

The collision knocked out power to 650 National Grid customers, utility spokesman David Graves said. All were back online by 2 a.m. The impact with the balloon basket "caused the lines to slap together, which caused a short to occur," Graves said. "We had to replace two or three sections of wire."

Bob Martel of Sterling-based Boston Hot Air Balloon Rides said although balloonists are not required to file a flight plan, every trip starts with a detailed briefing from the FAA on weather and other conditions. He said pilots must set down by sunset, which in Clinton Saturday night was at approximately 8:15 p.m.

"Power lines are always a concern," Martel said. "It's one thing you always watch for. Part of our briefing before we leave the ground is we have to be familiar with the area where we're flying."

The NTSB reports four people have been killed ballooning since May, including a pilot and two passengers whose balloon hit power lines in Ruther Glen, Va., on May 9, and a pilot who fell out of his basket while landing in Spring City, Pa., last month.

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