ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The community gathered Monday night to honor the five lives lost in this weekend’s hot air balloon crash. Investigators said Saturday, the balloon began to plunge, hit a power line, and burst into flames. Many people are sharing their horrific stories of hearing and seeing the crash.
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Lee Espinosa misses his friend, Martin Martinez. “I just talked to Marty on Thursday,” Espinosa said. “That really made it tough. I sure am glad I ended up calling him so I could talk to him one last time.”
Martin is one of five people who died in Saturday’s hot air balloon crash at Central and Unser. Martin was an Albuquerque Public School Police sergeant and former Albuquerque Police Department, officer. Martin was Espinosa’s supervisor for 11 years at APS Police. “Martin and Mary were great people,” Espinosa said.
The other victims are Martin’s wife, Mary. Susan Montoya was an assistant principal at Georgia O’Keefe Elementary, her husband, John was an educational assistant at Sandia High School. The Montoya’s were close friends of the Martinez’s. Also on board was the pilot of the Izia, Nick Meleski, who flew in several Balloon Fiestas.
The community gathered to honor the lives lost Monday evening by releasing balloons and lighting candles. Vigil organizer Ernie Martinez said he saw the balloon in seemingly fine condition from his home nearby Saturday and even waved to it minutes before it crashed. “15 or 20 minutes later, I heard the balloon crash,” Martinez said. “It was too late. It hit me hard because I might have been the last one alive to see them waving to everybody.”
Other neighbors also said they heard a loud noise before spotting the basket in the roadway. “It was so hard to see them laying there,” Louisa Rodriguez, who lives nearby, said.
While Espinosa said the vigil provided some peace, he still misses his friend. “I won’t be able to talk to him no more,” Espinosa said. “That is what I am going to miss. I won’t be able to talk to him no more on the phone. It is going to be tough.” Espinosa said Martin leaves behind four children.
PNM says they donated $100,000 to the families of the victims to use as they wish. Meleski’s family released the following statement Monday:
Our family is deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved friend, Nick Meleski, an amazing husband, father and grandfather. The outpouring of messages and support from our family, friends and ballooning community in New Mexico and across the world is greatly appreciated. Nick truly loved bringing the beauty and charm of ballooning through the skies in New Mexico and around the world, and we will cherish the memories of him for the rest of our lives.
Our hearts are broken for all those who lost their lives, and we are mourning with the entire Albuquerque community. We are grateful to the people who immediately assisted at the scene and for the first responders who were committed to helping in every way possible.
We ask that media outlets and members of the public who seek to express their condolences respect our privacy at this time.
Sincerely, The Meleski Family