COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A hot-air balloon drifted over downtown Tuesday and crashed into a television tower, sending the four occupants hurtling to their deaths.
'The bodies were all found inside the basket,' said Ohio Highway Patrol trooper Randy Thatcher. 'They were found in a heap inside the basket.'
The crash occurred about 8:15 a.m., approximately 30 minutes after the flight began. Federal, state and local authorities were investigating the accident.
John Rollins, an employee with the Franklin County Engineering Department and an eyewitness, said he was about 400 yards from the WBNS- TV tower when the crash occurred.
'Right after it hit and they started to descend, one person was still looking out over the basket as it was dropping. He was leaning out over the side all the way down.'
The balloon was owned by the Bogey Inn restaurant and tavern and chartered by Eric Ingwersen, one of the victims. The other victims were identified as Doug Shirey, Scott Meaker and Kathy Nemes. Their ages and hometowns were not immediately available.
'He (Ingwersen) was out with some friends,' said Charlotte Bryant, office manager for the Bogey Inn. 'He handles everything concerning the balloon.'
John Remmy, a reporter for WTVN radio, was driving to work when he saw the balloon go down.
'It was one of those nightmares you never expect to see,' he said. 'I saw the green and white hot air balloon with Bogey Inn written on the side of it. It was too close to the tower and the side of the balloon hit the side of the tower and dropped like a rock, at least 800 to 900 feet to the ground.'
Dottie Crabtree, a secretary at a school near the launching area, said she saw the balloon being filled with air but did not see it take off.
'There's a big field near our school where those balloons take off,' she said. 'When I came to work they almost had it filled.'
The launching area was on the south side of Columbus and the balloon had to drift across the city skyline, apparently never gaining the altitude needed, before it hit the tower northwest of the downtown area.
The tower, at 1,069 feet, is one of the tallest in central Ohio.
Part of the tower was damaged in the accident, forcing the station to switch to an auxiliary tower while repairs were made.