The Irrawaddy

At Least 12 Injured at Taunggyi Balloon Festival

Shan State Hot Air Balloon Artists’ Association's Facebook)

MANDALAY – At least 12 people were injured when a fireworks-laden hot air balloon fell onto spectators and vendors at the annual Tazaungdaing festival in Taunggyi, southern Shan state, on Monday.

The festival committee said a balloon from the Twun Tee team launched in to the air as planned but fell unexpectedly, injuring six people severely—including an elderly lady and a 7-year-old boy—and causing minor injuries to another six.

According to a Ministry of Home Affair’s statement, three women and two men were seriously injured.

“We assume that the wick attached under the balloon became too hot and the balloon ruptured before it launched into the air safely,” said U Than Win, secretary of the festival committee.

The balloon—carrying liters of burning oil, paraffin and dozens of kilos of fireworks hanging in a frame below it—fell down suddenly onto street hawkers occupying an area meant to be exclusively for spectators.

“An elderly lady and a 7-year-old boy were injured seriously and remain in a serious condition. About six other spectators suffered serious injuries. They all are now at Sao San Tun general hospital,” said the secretary.

According to the festival committee, 12 people were treated at the clinic on the festival grounds with minor burns and bruises.

On Sunday afternoon, six homes were destroyed when fireworks stored by Ko Aung Ngae, the team leader of Lu Pae hot air balloon team, for the festival ignited. He was seriously injured as he tried to extinguish the fire from spreading.

“The incident occurred due to the hot temperature and chemical reaction. He [Ko Aung Ngae] is also at Sao San Tun hospital with serious injuries,” added the secretary U Than Win.

A fire engine driver in his 40s who attended the blaze on Sunday died, but due to an existing heart condition, according to the secretary.

Accidents are common at the Taunggyi balloon festival with at least or two people injured each year either in preparations for the festival or at the festival it self.

“The festival traditions are deeply rooted,” explained secretary U Than Win. “Most teams would not give up even if their lives were in danger.”

“To avoid accidents, however, spectators and vendors should be careful and listen to instructions and announcements from organizers.”

The festival continues until Friday—the Full Moon Day of Tazaungmone—and hundreds of teams from Taunggyi and surrounding villages will compete to set off the most grand and beautiful hot air balloon.

This year there were a total of 88 teams for firework hot air balloons, 39 teams for lantern decorated hot air balloons and 266 teams for animal figures hot air balloons.