Three hot air balloons carrying dozens of people lost control Monday morning and came to a crashing halt in a field near Teton Village.
The multi-balloon incident is under investigation by federal authorities.
More than 16 passengers were hurt. Some of them described the incident as “terrifying.”
“We were descending so fast,” Clinton Phillips told the Jackson Hole Daily. “It was lifting us up and slamming us back down again. We were desperately trying not to fall out.”
Phillips said the balloon he was in was carrying about 20 people, including him, his wife Jade and their three children.
The scenic early morning Wyoming Balloon Company flight was nearing its end when the wind shifted and things went awry, Phillips said.
“I couldn’t believe how beautiful everything was,” Phillips said, “and then we were in hell a few minutes later. It was crazy.”
The Teton County Sheriff’s Office got the emergency call at 8:13 a.m. and rushed to the scene, where all three balloons and passengers were spread out, with varying injuries. One passenger was rushed by helicopter to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, Sheriff Matt Carr said. The Sheriff’s Office could not provide that patient’s name, so the Jackson Hole Daily was not able to verify the person’s condition with EIRMC before press time.
Emergency services also transported some patients, and others transported themselves, to St. John’s Health. Chief Communications Officer Karen Connelly said the valley hospital received 10 patients, three of whom were admitted, and seven of whom were treated and released later in the day. The three admitted patients were in “good condition,” she said. The majority of injuries the hospital saw were orthopedic — wrist, shoulders, ankles and the like.
“It was a pretty traumatic experience,” Phillips said. “My girls are pretty scratched up, and my son might have a concussion, and we think my wife’s ribs are broken.”
The balloons crashed just west of Highway 390 near Propane Road, the Teton County Sheriff’s Office said. They didn’t collide, despite some early witness reports. They all crashed separately but in the same field.
Another balloon, carrying 12-year-old Robert Krayevsky and his family, skidded across a field and crashed into a fence.
“Our captain fell off while we were in it,” Krayevsky told the Daily. “We bounced and went back up in the air by ourselves. The captain was yelling to pull the red ropes. We tipped over, and we had to get out because of possible fire. I got out, and people were laying on the ground hurt.”
Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, Grand Teton National Park law enforcement and Air Idaho “all assisted in triaging and transporting multiple victims to area hospitals for treatment,” Sgt. Clay Platt said.
The cause of the accident is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“We are gathering as much information as possible right now,” NTSB spokesperson Terry Williams said.
He said weather will be part of the investigation, but it’s too early to say for sure whether it was a factor.
FAA spokesperson for the northwestern region Allen Kenizter said the balloons crashed under “unknown circumstances.” Kenizter said “there are no prohibitions against this company from continuing to operate.”
More information, including an interview with employees of the Wyoming Balloon Company, will be in Wednesday’s Jackson Hole News&Guide.