U.S. safety officials arrived in Texas on Sunday to probe the crash of a hot air balloon that killed 16 people, amid reports that it hit a power line and caught fire before plummeting to the ground.
The balloon crashed on Saturday into a field near Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin, killing all aboard. Aerial television footage showed flattened remnants of the red, white and blue balloon, adorned with a yellow smiley face wearing sunglasses.
A witness told reporters the craft struck a power line. Emergency responders said the basket had caught fire.
Robert Sumwalt, the National Transportation Safety Board member heading the investigating team, told Reuters the collection of key evidence would start on Sunday.
"We like to document those things, the perishable evidence, those things that can go away with the passage of time, Sumwalt said.
The balloon was operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, based in New Braunfels, according to the NTSB. Attempts to reach the company for comment were unsuccessful.
Authorities have not released the names of the passengers.
But friends and family of Paige Brabson and her mother, Lorilee Brabson, said the two women are among the dead.
Paige Brabson was herself a new mother, according to a Facebook post by Ivan Monterrosa. It was not immediately clear where the women lived, but Monterrosa's Facebook profile indicated that he graduated from high school in Wylie, Texas, in 2011.
"Yesterday, the beloved mother of my daughter, Paige Brabson and her mother, Lorilee Brabson, both passed away in a tragic hot air balloon accident," Monterrosa wrote. "All I ask for are prayers and good vibes not just for myself but the Brabson family as well."
The firm's records as well as photos and videos will be part of the investigation, Sumwalt said. He added that the safety panel is not satisfied with regulations for recreational balloons and believes oversight could be stronger.
A spokesman for the Balloon Federation of North America said the crash was the deadliest in the Western Hemisphere.
The balloon company said in a recorded telephone message that chief pilot and owner Alfred "Skip" Nichols had died in the crash and all flights were canceled.
Federal Aviation Administration records showed that Nichols had a 2014 commercial pilot's license for hot air balloons, with an address in Chesterfield, Missouri.
The nonprofit Better Business Bureau gave the company a D+ rating, on a scale of A+ to F, after six complaints in the last three years.
In a 2015 Facebook video, Nichols said he was inspired to become a balloonist at 15, when one landed on his street. He helped pack it up and became a crew member.
"It's an adventure every time," he said.
The company's Facebook page was filled with condolence messages and photographs of Nichols.
"In loving memory of my sweet friend, Skip Nichols, I will always remember your visits to my house, just showing up for long walks and talking about life, I will love you forever, Godspeed, my friend!" Lisa Wade Kaminski wrote on Facebook.