Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
Sixteen people were killed in Texas in what is now the deadliest recreational hot air balloon crash in US history.
Authorities said they believe the balloon hit high-voltage power lines before it erupted into flames and plummeted to the earth in Lockhart, around 30 miles from Austin,KSAT reported.
While the victims' names have not been released, the pilot has been identified as Skip Nichols of the company Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.
Scroll down for video
Skip Nichols (pictured left, with passengers on a 2015 flight and right) has been identified as the balloon's pilot with the company Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides
This picture, which appears to have been taken from the inside of a vehicle, reportedly shows the hot air balloon shortly after take off
Authorities said there were no survivors after the hot air balloon carrying 16 people caught fire and crashed in Texas (pictured left and right, police at the scene)
The balloon went down in Lockhart, about 30 miles from Austin, while it was approximately halfway into its hour-long journey
'The balloon was occupied and it does not appear at this time that there were any survivors of the crash,' the sheriff's office said in a statement.
The Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed 16 people had died, while Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) acknowledged there was a 'significant loss of life'.
The passengers were 26 minutes into an hour-long ride when it crashed, according to Marcus Officer from Fox 7, who spoke to an employee of one of the men on board.
Caldwell County Judge Ken Schawe, along with a Texas Department of Public Safety official toldCNN investigators believe the balloon hit power lines, causing it to erupt in flames.
Hot air balloon pilot Troy Bradley of New Mexico said the chances of the balloon catching fire by itself were slim, supporting the authorities' theory, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Witness Margaret Wylie, who lives near the scene of the crash, told the news website: 'First I heard a whoosh. And then a big ball of fire [went] up. I'd say it got as high up as those lower electrical lines.'
According to Wylie, she said the hot air balloon, operated by the company Heart of Texas (HOT) landed directly under the large power lines, with the flames reaching about four stories high.
Nichols (center, in a photo uploaded to Facebook last week) was listed as the owner of HOT on the Better Business Bureau website, which gave the company a D+ rating
While investigators are still determining the identities of the 15 other victims, tributes poured in for Nichols. His ex-girlfriend Wendy Bartch said he was a good pilot who cared about safety
The passengers were 26 minutes into an hour-long ride when it crashed, according to Marcus Officer from Fox 7, who spoke to an employee of one of the men on board (pictured, investigators combing the wreckage)
Witness Margaret Wylie (left) said she heard a noise before she saw a 'big ball of fire'. Erik Grosof (right) with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) acknowledged there was a 'significant loss of life'
Caldwell County Judge Ken Schawe, along with a Texas Department of Public Safety official told CNN investigators believe the balloon may have hit power lines, causing it to go up in flames
While investigators are still determining the identities of the 15 other victims, tributes poured in for Nichols, who is listed as the owner of HOT on a Better Business Bureau website.
Bianca Szal Storll wrote on Facebook: 'Skip Nichols 24 years ago you took me on my first and only balloon ride.
'Your passion for it was contagious as was your happy go lucky outlook on life. RIP my friend.'
William Nelson, a balloon pilot with another company, wrote: 'We lost a long time friend and balloon pilot Skip Nichols in this morning...My heart goes out to his mother and to the families of the passengers that were flying in the balloon.'
According to the HOT company's website, the rides, which take off from 60 different locations, cost $399 per passenger for an hour-long sunrise flight.
The tragedy may now be the single deadliest hot air balloon crash in the US (pictured, a balloon posted by Nichols on Facebook in 2014)
The BBB website gave the company a D+ rating due to six complaints filed over the course of three years.
But Nichols' ex-girlfriend Wendy Bartch said he was a good pilot who cared about safety and had at least 20 years of experience, the Statesman reported.
Authorities did not disclose where the passengers boarded, but a photograph taken just minutes before the crash showed the same balloon that Nichols posted on his Facebook.
Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law said people could simply walk up and buy a ticket, making it more difficult to identify the victims.
Spokesman Eric Weiss of the NTSB said an investigative team would arrive later on Saturday, and that they knew 'very, very little right now'.
Senator Ted Cruz sent his condolences to 'all who have lost their loved ones'.
He added: 'Texans are strong in the face of adversity.
'We all stand together in support of the families and the entire Lockhart community as they respond to and begin to heal from this terrible incident.'
Texas Governor Greg Abbott also issued a statement saying: 'Cecilia and I extend our deepest condolences for all those who have been affected by today's heartbreaking tragedy.
'Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, as well as the Lockhart community.
'The investigation into the cause of this tragic accident will continue, and I ask all of Texas to join us in praying for those lost.'
The tragedy is now the single deadliest hot air balloon crash in the US after an incident in Colorado left six dead in 1993.
The world's worst hot air balloon crash occurred in Luxor, Egypt, after a fire killed 19 in 2013.
The world's deadliest hot air balloon crash occurred in Luxor, Egypt, in 2013 after a fire caused 19 deaths. These are some of the worst recreational hot air balloon accidents within the US:
May 9, 2014: Three people died during an air balloon festival in Caroline County, Virginia, when their balloon struck a power line and burst into flames during a landing attempt.
August 8, 1993: Six people were killed when their balloon hit a power line near Aspen, Colorado, tearing off the basket and sending it plunging 100 feet to the ground.
December 11, 1990: Four people died near downtown Columbus, Ohio, after their hot-air balloon hit a television tower and deflated.
October 3, 1982: An explosion onboard a hot-air balloon carrying nine people at a festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, killed four people and injured five.
August 6, 1981: Five people were killed and one seriously injured when a hot-air balloon caught fire after touching electrical wires and crashed in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois.