ST-JEAN-SUR-RICHELIEU, Que. – An international hot air balloon festival took a tragic turn on Sunday when a 26-year-old pilot died southeast of Montreal.
Maxime Trepanier had been taking part in the festivities at the 30th edition of a popular festival in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.
Marie-Claude Beauvais, a festival spokeswoman, said the accident happened in nearby Mont-St-Gregoire, perhaps while the hot air balloon was landing.
Beauvais said Trepanier was an experienced pilot and had been involved with the festival since he was a boy.
“He was very close to the festival family,” said Beauvais, visibly shaken as she addressed reporters on Sunday.
Trepanier’s father was also a festival pilot.
Investigators were on the scene trying to determine what caused the accident, which happened at 7:30 in the morning, said Quebec provincial police Sgt. Audrey-Anne Bilodeau.
The festival began on Saturday and runs until Aug. 18.
Beauvais said events would continue through the week but hot air balloons would remain grounded on Sunday night in tribute to Trepanier.
According to its website, the International Balloon Festival of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu is “the biggest gathering of balloons in Canada,” drawing 450,000 visitors a year.
The Transportation Safety says it’s sending investigators to look into the accident.