Witnesses have reported hearing screams of “oh my God, I’m going to die” after a hot air balloon carrying three people caught fire during a ballooning festival and went crashing into the ground.
Rescue crews in Virginia confirmed they have recovered the body of one of the passengers on board the balloon. Two others are missing, feared dead.
Virginia Police are searching for wreckage after the balloon’s gondola apparently hit a power line and burst into flames during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival at 7.30pm local time on Friday evening.
Authorities received eyewitness reports that two occupants either fell or jumped from the burning balloon after it struck the power line.
The ballooning festival had been due to start on Saturday and organisers were hosting a special "Friday Flights Happy Hour" for a limited audience from 6pm to 9pm when the apparent crash happened.
More than 20 hot air balloon teams from across the US were due to take part in the festival at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County.
Horrified witnesses posted pictures of the blaze on social media, where the balloon’s basket can be seen engulfed in flames.
"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," Carrie Hager-Bradley, who saw the balloon on fire on her way home, told WWBT TV. She said she heard one person shouting: “Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die.”
Another resident, Debra Ferguson, told a local newspaper she looked up after other balloons had landed safely near her house and heard cries of “Oh my god” and then saw a surge of flames.
"As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there ... it was like a match, poof, and then it was gone," Ferguson told the Free Lance-Star, of Fredericksburg.
A police statement said: "No wreckage has been found yet, and there are no confirmed injuries or fatalities."
A ground search was under way involving state police, the Federal Aviation Administration, and local law enforcement and emergency workers, officials said.
"State police report that bad weather elsewhere in the Richmond vicinity has grounded air search for the time being," organisers wrote on the website.