Albuquerque hot air balloon crash: Families pay tribute as five killed on 'bucket list trip'

FAMILIES have paid respect as five people were killed on a "bucket list trip" in a hot air balloon.

The tragic fall killed four passengers and the pilot after the balloon split from the basket, sending it crashing into a power line before falling to the ground.

It's unclear at this time what caused the gondola to break off from the balloon, which floated into the air after dropping the basket.

The victims ranged in age from 59 to 65 years old.

They were identified Sunday as passengers Susan and John Montoya, Mary and Martin Martinez and pilot Nicholas Meleski, according to KOB-4.

Susan was an assistant principal at a school and was set to change where she works next year. The trip was on her bucket list and was part of a gift from her co-workers.

"The staff at Georgia O’Keefe chipped in funds to purchase a balloon ride for Susan and three guests as a farewell gift," Superintendent Scott Elder said.

"It was their way of showing Susan how much they love and appreciated her. There are no words to describe the heartache and trauma the staff at Georgia O’Keefe is dealing with today. Please keep them in your prayers.” 

The pilot of the balloon had been giving rides for forty years, his friends told KOAT, and leaves behind his wife and daughter.

The Martinez's had been married for 34 years and leave behind a son, according to the outlet.

The balloon's basket crashed down on a street corner in the West Side of the New Mexico city around 7am Saturday.

The balloon piece was later found in the backyard of a home about a mile away.

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said that citizens who saw the crash came over with fire extinguishers to try to help the victims.

But tragically, four were pronounced dead at the scene and the fifth died later at the hospital.

"We want to thank all the individuals who helped out today. There were greats acts of heroics done by citizens," Medina said.

One of the victims, Martin Martinez, 59, was a retired Albuquerque police office and sergeant in the Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department, cops said.

He and his wife Mary both died in the crash. Their son is currently a transport officer in the department as well.

Medina said that responding to the crash was one of the hardest moments in his career.

"In 26 years, it was one of the scenes that hit me the most," Medina said.

"There were officers on the scene who worked with Martin and we did have to send some officers home because they were disturbed by what had occurred and it took its toll on them."

Albuquerque Public Schools also issued a statement mourning the sergeant.

"Sgt. Martinez will forever be remembered for his lifelong dedication, courage, and selflessness to the profession of law enforcement.

"He had long careers with both the Albuquerque Police Department and the Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department," it said.

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