LEWISTON — Despite burn injuries resulting from an explosion Saturday night during the Great Falls Balloon Festival, the family of New Hampshire hot air balloon pilot Andre Boucher expect him to recover and return to the skies.
While Boucher recovers at a Portland hospital, a joint investigation into the incident by the Maine State Fire Marshal's Office and Lewiston Fire Department resumes Monday.
Boucher, who owns A & A Balloon Rides Ltd. in Derry, was listed in satisfactory condition Sunday evening at Maine Medical Center in Portland. He was taken there Saturday night after a "backflash" propane explosion injured himself and four other people.
The accident occurred just before liftoff while Boucher was changing a fuel line. Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said that the State Fire Marshal's Office was on scene Saturday night to investigate at the request of the Lewiston Fire Department.
McCausland said Sunday that Boucher's equipment and basket were impounded Saturday night. He said investigators expect to resume their joint inquiry Monday and begin inspecting the equipment.
McCausland said there were seven people in the basket, including Boucher, when the fireball erupted. Four of the five people injured were taken to hospitals.
In addition to Boucher, McCausland said 12-year-old Mason Mahonen was also taken to Maine Medical Center. He was listed in satisfactory condition Sunday night.
Nancy Turner, 36, Douglas, Mass., and Linda Marsh, 33, of Hampden, were taken to Central Maine Medical Center Saturday night, according to McCausland. Neither was listed as a patient there on Sunday night.
Turner was at the festival with another balloon, but was a passenger on Boucher's at the time of the accident.
A fifth person was treated and released at the scene, according to McCausland.
Boucher's son, Jason, also of Derry, said Sunday his father would “be OK." The younger Boucher owns Infinity & Beyond, another hot air balloon business in Derry. He was also at the festival Saturday night, but said he was already flying when the accident occurred.
Jason Boucher didn’t know the particulars of what occurred, but felt certain that his father would “absolutely” continue flying.
“I’m sure he’ll keep flying,” Jason Boucher said.
Andre Boucher’s balloon, Passion, was supposed to be the eighth balloon to launch at about 7 p.m.
Boucher’s Bearship III balloon has long been a familiar sight in the skies over Southern New Hampshire. The bright yellow balloon decorated with a bear wearing a cowboy hat and balloons is often seen drifting over the Merrimack Valley.
Boucher has been flying for more than 20 years, according to his website. He’s been a commercial pilot since 1992 and has flown balloons all over the United States, as well as in Canada and France.
Just over a year ago, Boucher suffered another tragedy when his three-story storage barn on Warner Hill Road was destroyed in a spectacular fire.
The barn, filled with hot air balloon supplies and propane tanks, exploded in a massive fire, peppered with explosions. Fifteen fire departments battled the blaze, which destroyed the structure. Exploding propane tanks threw debris as far as 250 feet.
Andre Boucher was filling a propane tank inside a balloon basket when a spark triggered that blaze. Firefighters were able to save Boucher’s nearby home.
After the devastating loss, Andre Boucher vowed to keep flying. The day after that blaze, Jason Boucher delivered one of his own balloons to his father so he could keep flying.