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ARIZONA Hot-air balloon hits mountain kills man; local couple injured



Published: Fri, April 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



STAFF/WIRE REPORT

MARANA, Ariz. -- A hot-air balloon crashed near here killing one man and injuring ten others, including Leonard Schiavone, 53, and his wife Gina, 49, of Youngstown.

The man killed, Thomas Gregoria, 72, of New York, was taking a ride with his wife, Rosemarie, to celebrate their wedding anniversary. She was injured.

The balloon ride was a gift from their daughter.

The balloon, with nine passengers and a crew of two, clipped Twin Peaks Mountain on Wednesday, breaking supports for the balloon's basket, and the bottom part of the balloon then caught fire, police Sgt. Bill Derfus said.

Because of high winds, the pilot, Jeffrey Gilles, 31, struggled to land the balloon in the desert, said Katy Heiden, a spokeswoman for the Northwest Fire/Rescue District. The balloon, with the basket hanging askew, bounced along the desert floor for about 200 yards.

The Schiavones were flown by helicopter to University Medical Center.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jerry Johnston said.

The balloon was owned by Thunderbird Adventures, which started in 2003.

Jim Woods, an aviation safety inspector for the FAA district office in Scottsdale, said he had not determined the cause of the crash. "From what I understand, there wasn't any wind to speak of," he said.

After inspecting wreckage and interviewing those who had been on board, Woods said, he will send a report to the National Transportation Safety Board, which will try to pinpoint the cause. That could take six months to a year, he said.

COPYRIGHT 2005 ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN, OR REDISTRIBUTED.




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