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Two Killed, Six Injured in Balloon Crashes in Three States

June 6, 1987

Undated (AP) _ A balloon on a charity fund-raiser in Maryland, a balloon toting newlyweds in North Carolina and a balloon on a birthday pleasure ride in Pennsylvania crashed into power lines Saturday, killing two people and injuring six others.

In Gaithersburg, Md., a hot-air balloon that was part of a 50-balloon fund- raising fleet struck lines carrying 69,000 volts of electricity and crashed, killing a teen-age passenger and injuring her pilot father, said Montgomery County police spokesman George Luddington.

The gondola containing the pilot and his daughter was torn from the balloon, which began to burn when it hit the lines, said Luddington. The gondola then fell about 30 feet, and propane tanks aboard apparently exploded when it hit the ground, he said.

The pilot, Robert Van Newkirk, 39, of Pittsburgh, suffered burns over 28 percent of his body and was listed in serious condition at the burn unit of the Washington Hospital Center, a hospital spokeswoman said. Killed was his 16-year-old daughter, Christine Lynn.

The balloon was one of about 50 Saturday raising money for Kids Inc., a non-profit group that benefits terminally ill children.

In a similar accident in Charlotte, N.C., a newlywed taking a hot-air balloon ride given as a wedding gift was killed when the craft went down in power lines. His wife was not hurt, but the pilot suffered electrical burns, authorities said.

The balloon had been aloft about 40 minutes when it became tangled in the 13,000-volt power lines shortly after 8 a.m., the Cabarrus County sheriff’s department said.

″He (the pilot) was attemping to land in an open field and he advised the investigating officer that the sun was in his eyes and he didn’t really see the power lines,″ said sheriff’s Lt. D.L. Lambert.

Killed was George Thomas McVaney, 26, of Charlotte. The pilot, Steven William Page, 40, suffered electrical burns and was in stable condition at Mercy Hospital. McVaney’s wife, Kathy, whom he had married April 25, was uninjured.

And in Conestoga, Pa., a hot-air balloon carrying five people tangled in 7,500-volt electrical wires and plummeted about 35 feet, authorities said.

The pilot and two passengers were treated for minor injuries at St. Joseph Hospital in Lancaster and released, hospital spokeswoman Kathy Schwalm said. A third passenger, Lois Haas, 58, of York, was in fair condition in the intensive care unit with a head injury and electrical burns, she said.

″I never did this before, and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again,″ said Nancy Jeffers, 37, who was taking the trip to celebrate her birthday. Mrs. Jeffers, of Mount Airy, was the only person aboard to escape injury.

The pilot, Richard Fox, of East Berlin, Pa., was trying to land in a wheat field just south of Lancaster when the balloon began to lose altitude, said Manor Township Police officer Charles Roberts.

The basket dropped about 35 feet and landed atop an 8-foot embankment, police said.

The other two injured in the wreck were Jack Haas, 57, and Marjorie McIntosh, 59, both of York.

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