Taunggyi Balloon Festival Deaths Rise to 4

By Zarni Mann 10 November 2014

RANGOON — The death toll of the Taunggyi’s balloon festival in Shan State this year has risen to four, festival organizers and participants said, after a man injured in an accident died of his wounds on Friday, while news also emerged that a child had died on Nov. 4 when a balloon landed on a tent.

The famed annual balloon festival, which marks the full moon day of Tazaungdaing, an important day in the Buddhist calendar, began at midnight on Friday Oct. 31 and was scheduled to continue for a week, but it was cut short and ended on Thursday Nov. 6 due to poor weather conditions. About 50 remaining balloon flights were cancelled

In an accident on Oct. 31, a hot-air balloon, which has liters of burning paraffin and dozens of kilos of fireworks hanging on a frame below it, suddenly fell down onto spectators and members of the Khun Tan balloon team. Two men died several days later from severe burns sustained during the accident, while 12 others were injured, three of them critically.

Last Friday, one of the critically injured, Khun Thi Han, leader of the Khun Tan balloon team, died from his injuries.

“The doctors said about 80 percent of his body had burns and this caused his death,” said Khun Aung Thein, a friend of the victim. “He was trying to drive away the spectators and help extinguish the fire during the accident. Unfortunately, he was also burned and his death is a tragic loss for the team.”

Taunggyi Hospital staff told The Irrawaddy that most of those with minor injuries have been discharged, while two other patients with serious injuries were transferred to private hospitals by their families.

In another tragic accident on Nov. 4 a balloon was blown away by strong winds to the edges of the festival grounds, where it fell down and landed on a tent where a four-year-old child was sleeping, said Tin Win, secretary of the Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival Committee.

“The balloon drifted away from the festival grounds, caught fire and fell down from the sky suddenly. It went down onto a small hut where a poor child was left alone, the hut caught fire and he died on the spot,” he said.

Tin Win blamed bad weather conditions for this year’s accidents, adding, “Such accidents rarely happen” during other years.

The number of dead and injured during Taunggyi’s famed festival is the worst in years. The festival has, however, always been a dangerous yet awesome spectacle.

Tens of thousands of people watch the home-made balloons from nearby as they take off from the festival grounds. Hundreds gather within meters of the balloon teams as they prepare to let up the large balloons loaded with home-made fireworks. Many enthusiastic spectators stand below the balloons as they rise up and fireworks explode in the sky.

During this year’s festival, there appeared to be little in the way of safety precautions apart from the presence of a fire truck and warnings shouted by the festival organizers through a public sound system.