Photo of balloon accident goes viral

Posted at: 10/10/2013 5:39 PM
Updated at: 10/11/2013 12:54 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Courtesy: Greg Abernathy

A Rio Rancho teenager snapped a photo that’s spread worldwide on the internet – a shot of a hot air balloon hitting a power line Wednesday morning – a crash that sent two men to the hospital with burns.

Greg Abernathy is a sophomore at ASK Academy Charter School on Rio Rancho’s southeast side. That’s where he was Wednesday morning when hundreds of balloons filled the sky in a mass ascension during the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Greg was supposed to be paying attention in History class, but he was watching the balloons outside the second story window next to his desk. He saw one flying low, heading toward some power lines, and he hauled out his cell phone and started taking pictures.

Greg caught the action as the balloon struck the line, setting off an explosion. He zoomed in for the famous tight shot that appeared on Eyewitness News 4, on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal, and all over the internet. While Greg shot pictures, his classroom suddenly became part of the action.

“We heard a big 'Zzzzt' sound and saw a big flash of light,” Greg said. “All the lights flickered and that balloon just got electrocuted. About the time the balloon hit the ground I pulled out my phone and called 911.”

Pilot Mark Kilgore suffered some burns, but his crew chief Daniel Lovato, was badly burned on his arms and chest and face. Doctors had to amputate his left arm. That’s what haunts Greg about his famous photo.

“I hope the pilots of the balloon have a good recovery, and hope they end up okay,” Greg said.

We do too, Greg.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will want to see his photos for their investigations. Balloon Fiesta officials are already looking them over.