A low flight hot air balloon crashed into a moving train on the evening of June 1 in Burlington, Wisconsin. The unusual crash sent the three occupants hot air balloon to hospital with life-threatening injuries, and two of them were airlifted by helicopter for immediate medical attention.
Burlington police responded to a report of a collision between a hot air balloon and a freight train on Calumet Street at 8:15 p.m. local time. The first one police report cited witnesses who said the hot air balloon appeared in distress shortly before crashing into a northbound train. The balloon is owned by the Lake Geneva Balloon Company, and the train is owned and operated by the Canadian National Railway.
A report of NBC showed the aftermath of the accident, but video footage of the collision was captured by a driver and later released by ABC News.
Local reports from WTMJ cited a witness who said the hot air balloon had bounced off a building before the collision. This account indicated that it was the train that struck the hot air balloon, but a Burlington police statement released on June 2 provided additional details of the hot air balloon pilot:
The pilot reported that while attempting to land the hot air balloon in the 400 block of Calumet Street, the gondola touched down and the balloon got caught in a Canadian National train in north direction.
Despite the pilot’s testimony, video footage, and eyewitness accounts, the cause of the crash is unknown. The crash is currently under joint investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The investigation involves the NTSB, Burlington police and the Federal Aviation Administration. There was even a statement from the Balloon Federation of America cautioning against speculation.
Police initially claimed Canadian National Railways were also involved in the investigation, but the company has since declined to comment on the crash, saying local authorities should handle any inquiries.
The good news is that the remarkably unlikely accident did not result in loss of life. The hot air balloon pilot and two passengers were discharged from hospital and are now recovering from their injuries. No word on the state of the balloon on the other hand, nor on that of the railcar compared to the train.