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Last Updated: Monday, 9 June, 2003, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Inquiry as balloon drags girl to death
Balloon wreckage
The wreckage of the balloon was found 40 miles from the base
An investigation is under way into a freak accident in which a five-year-old girl was swept 40 miles to her death by a helium balloon in Germany.

The British youngster became entangled in the mooring ropes of the balloon as it was taken by high winds.

It was about to be used for fun rides at a British military show at Rheindalen, near Moenchengladbach in western Germany.

The body of the girl, whose father is a British serviceman, was found near the balloon's wreckage two hours later.

British military spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Helen Wildman said the plan was to lift people up and down with the balloon tethered to a rope on a hot, sunny day.

The girl's body was found 40 miles from Rheindalen base
The weather was so freakish that I'm not sure if anything could have prevented it, but that is for the investigation to say
Colonel Helen Wildman

She told BBC Radio 5 Live: "The weather was very nice but suddenly it changed and it became extremely stormy.

"The balloon broke away from the rope and flew away.

"Unfortunately, the rope got tangled with a five-year-old girl and dragged her away with the balloon.

"She was lifted in the air."

Colonel Wildman said the sudden storm with "huge hail stones" created havoc, with six people injured including one who needed hospital treatment.

"Furniture was being whipped into the air and hurled across the showground and brand new cars on show were damaged.

"Then we saw the balloon lift off and within minutes the rain had stopped and the sun came out again. It was utter chaos for a couple of minutes."

Family 'devastated'

A search was immediately launched by German authorities and British military police.

The balloon at the show
The balloon broke from its moorings when winds whipped up
"They began by searching the immediate local area around the showground and were extending it further when they received a call from the police in Hamminkeln, near Wesel, to say that they had discovered the balloon and the body of a young girl."

The child's body was discovered approximately 100 metres from the balloon.

An investigation into the accident is under way.

"The investigation will look at a number of issues including whether the correct safety procedures were followed.

"Having said that the weather was so freakish that I'm not sure if anything could have prevented it, but that is for the investigation to say," Colonel Wildman said.

The girl's parents, who were with her at the show, are being cared for by family liaison officers and were said to be "devastated".

Her father is a serving British soldier and her mother is German, Colonel Wildman said.

The rest of the military show, which had only been open for an hour and was to continue until Monday, was cancelled.

James Westhead reports
"The balloon travelled forty miles before coming down"


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