In this photo by Nancy Johnson, the hot air balloon's basket appears to be engulfed in flames.
A hot air balloon at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival in Doswell, Virginia, caught fire and crashed shortly before 8PM ET, according Virginia State Police officials. Police and rescue crews continued to search for wreckage and at least three missing passengers into the night.
The fiery crash was first reported on social media just before 8PM ET. Eyewitness Nancy Johnson of Chester, Virginia, took this photo (above) of the hot air balloon as it caught fire. She originally posted it on Instagram, but agreed to share the original with Mashable.
Johnson, who was attending the festival described the scene in an email to Mashable, "All balloons were hovering behind event park then everyone just started pointing at sky. When I looked, the basket of balloon was engulfed in flames from there crowd just went silent and watched in shock."
The Virginia State police were notified of the crash around 8 PM by the Virginia County Sheriff's Office. Police set up a staging area and have been actively searching for wreckage and survivors. At the time of their 10 PM press conference, though, no wreckage had been found, said police.
Based on eyewitness accounts, one hot air balloon did catch fire and crash, said the Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller. The balloon had a pilot and at least two passengers, all of which are currently unaccounted for. No names were released.
In a second press conference, Virginia State Police spokesperson Geller confirmed that the balloon did hit a power line, catch fire and then the basket and balloon separated. By 11:30 PM ET, Virginia State police were still searching for two crash sites and at least three missing people.
State police: We will continue through the night until we find the hot-air balloon wreckage
— CBS 6 WTVR Richmond (@CBS6) May 10, 2014
The Federal Aviation Administration is on the scene, as this is considered an air crash.
Reporters asked about the possibility of weather playing a role, but the official said the skies were overcast, but not stormy.
According to Central Virginia CBS local news station WTVR, Channel 6, the balloon may have drifted into nearby power lines in Doswell, Virginia, before catching fire. The balloon was apparently taking part in the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival at Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, Virginia. The festival is a three-day event in Doswell that includes food, live music and hot air balloon rides. According to WTVR all the full balloon flights were sold out, but tickets were still available for tethered flights.
Festival officials have, according to WTVR, cancelled the remainder of the festival. Festival organizers later posted this message on their Facebook page: