• Kyodo

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A British pilot and a Self-Defense Forces member suffered minor injuries Monday when their hot-air balloon crashed on the ground and caught fire during the Saga International Balloon Festa.

The pilot, Richard Parry, 53, and Masayuki Yamashita, a 23-year-old SDF member from Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, suffered burns and bruises as they escaped from the balloon, named the Volkswagen.

They were taken to a hospital in Saga, organizers said.

According to the organizers, Parry and Yamashita were participating in a competition in which participants throw a sandbag at a target on the ground from midair.

The balloon, controlled by Parry, lifted off at around 8:30 a.m. After reaching an altitude of 300 meters, the aircraft descended and approached the target, but it failed to halt in midair and crashed onto the ground.

The two escaped as the fuel gas caught fire, and the flaming balloon lifted off again and drifted until it landed in an irrigation channel 1,300 meters to the southwest. Part of the debris landed near a house, but no one else was injured.

The cause of the accident was not immediately known.

Parry, a veteran fixed-wing airplane pilot, has logged 588 hours flying hot-air balloons over the past 14 years.

The balloon had been flown on 41 occasions in the past without incident, and organizers say there is little possibility of a structural defect.

The balloon festival began Thursday. Monday was the last day of the annual event, in which 110 balloons from 14 countries and regions participated.

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