Ballooning community mourning the loss of one of their own

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By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

The ballooning community is a tight-knit group, and the loss of a pilot has a ripple effect.

Monday, pilots are learning about a balloon crash in Pennsylvania that killed Jeff Hooten, an Albuquerque man who was no stranger to New Mexico ballooning and our International Balloon Fiesta.

KOB Eyewitness News 4 spoke to the woman who trained Hooten how to fly.


The worst case scenario happened. While flying ten passengers just outside of Philadelphia, reports state Jeff Hooten had a heart attack in the air.

“He got the balloon on the ground before he went unconscious.  He kept the passengers from getting hurt by getting it on the ground as quickly as he could,” Elizabeth Wright-Smith said.

Wright-Smith is the woman who taught Hooten everything he knew about hot air balloons.


When the balloon hit the ground, reports state Hooten fell out. The balloon bounced and Hooten was crushed under the weight of the envelope.

“When he started feeling bad, he knew something was wrong and so he had a relatively hard landing just because he was trying to get it on the ground when he still could,” Wright-Smith said.

During the last Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta he piloted a balloon called “Fruit Loopin'”.


Other pilots in Albuquerque will miss his humor and sense of adventure.


“He definitely kept life interesting. He was definitely a character,” Wright-Smith said.


Jeff Hooten is originally from Albuquerque, but traveled for long periods of time to take others out of New Mexico on hot air balloon rides.

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