DENVER Gusty winds forced the crash landings of four hot air balloons in separate mishaps on Saturday northwest of Denver, leaving at least 10 people hurt, but none of the injuries was life-threatening, authorities said.
All of the aborted flights occurred in wide-open areas frequented by balloon enthusiasts, according to Dana Lewis, a spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District.
National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Kalina said sustained winds of 20 to 30 miles an hour, with gusts of up to 35 mph, were reported in the area at the time of the crash landings.
Lewis said one balloon carrying 10 passengers and a pilot went down inside the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, injuring five people, one of whom suffered "a fairly significant ankle injury."
In Boulder County, a balloon with a pilot and 11 passengers "impacted the ground hard" inside a wildlife conservation area, said local sheriff's spokesman Deputy Mitch Rosebrough.
"The weather conditions were calm and warm early this morning, but changed to gusty winds at the time of the crash," Rosebrough said. Two passengers were transported to a local hospital with neck and back injuries, he said.
In neighboring Arvada, the pilot of a balloon was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, and two passengers were treated at the scene after the aircraft crash landed, said Scott Pribble, spokesman for the Arvada Fire Protection District.
A fourth balloon went down in nearby Louisville, Colorado, but there were no reports of injuries.
Separately, a small airplane crashed on Saturday in a remote corner of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, about 230 miles southwest of Denver, killing one person aboard the aircraft and injuring two others, a park spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Eric Walsh)