16 injured in hot air balloon heavy landing in Australia

SYDNEY — A hot air balloon landed heavily after hitting a tree north of Sydney on Friday, injuring 16 people, officials said.

The balloon was carrying a pilot and 24 passengers when it landed in a field in Hunter Valley after hitting the tree, Professional Ballooning Association of Australia spokesman Damian Crock said.

The Health Department said 16 passengers were treated at a hospital and at least 12 had been discharged late Friday.

Their injuries included suspected spinal damage and broken bones. None of the injuries was life-threatening, an ambulance official said.

Television reports showed branches strewn on the ground from a eucalyptus tree the balloon stuck and foliage still clinging to its basket after landing.

The circumstances of the landing will be examined by government crash investigators, Crock said.

The balloon's operator, Balloon Safaris, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

In January, four passengers were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries when a Balloon Safaris hot air balloon made a heavy landing in Hunter Valley.

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