Albuquerque, NM – Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department (APSPD) Sergeant Martin “Marty” Martinez died in a hot air balloon crash with four other people on the morning of June 26.
Sgt. Martinez’s wife, 62-year-old Mary Martinez, was also among the victims, Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Scott Elder and APSPD Chief Steve Gallegos said in a joint statement released later the same day.
Albuquerque Police Department (APD) spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos said the incident began on the west side of the city at approximately 7 a.m., the Associated Press reported.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the gondola of the Cameron 0-120 balloon fell approximately 100 feet before crashing into a median and igniting a fire.
Gallegos said the balloon’s envelope floated off in the sky and later came down on top of a home, the Associated Press reported.
The balloon also collided with at least one power line during the crash, temporarily knocking out the electricity to over 13,000 residences, he said.
Bystanders and first responders raced to the area where the basket crashed near Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard, the New Mexico State Police (NMSP) said in a press release on Sunday.
Sgt. Martinez and his wife were pronounced dead at the scene, as were 65-year-old Susan Montoya and the balloon’s pilot, 62-year-old Nicholas Meleski.
A fifth victim, 61-year-old John Montoya, was rushed to the hospital but later died due to the severity of his injuries, according to the NMSP.
The victims were all Albuquerque residents, Gallegos told the Associated Press.
They also all had ties to APS, the school district confirmed on Sunday.
Susan Montoya was the assistant principal at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School, while John Montoya worked as a special education assistant at Sandia High School.
Meleski’s daughter is an APS school and crisis counselor.
“For Albuquerque Public Schools, this loss is unprecedented,” Elder said in the press release. “Never before have we experienced the loss of so many in one incident.”
The hot air balloon ride was a going-away gift from Susan Montoya’s APS colleagues, according to the district.
She was preparing to go to a different job and had always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon, so her coworkers pitched in to make her dream a reality.
“It was their way of showing Susan how much they loved and appreciated her,” the APS said.
Among those who responded to the scene were APD officers who knew Sgt. Martinez personally and had worked with him over the years, Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said.
“This is a tragedy that is uniquely felt and hits uniquely hard at home here in Albuquerque and in the ballooning community,” Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller told the Associated Press.
“We know from experience here in Albuquerque that sometimes winds kick up or things happen that make it difficult for balloons to navigate,” Gallegos told the Albuquerque Journal. “We’re not sure the cause of this at this point. Obviously, the FAA will look into this and determine what the cause was.”
Two National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators responded to the scene and are working to pinpoint the exact cause of the fatal collision, NTSB spokesperson Peter Knudson told the Associated Press.
Sgt. Martinez served the APD as a patrol officer before retiring and going to work for the APSPD, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
He served the APSPD for 16 years, KOB reported.
Sgt. Martinez’s son is currently an APD transport officer, according to the Associated Press.
“Sgt. Martinez will forever be remembered for his lifelong dedication, courage, and selflessness to the profession of law enforcement,” Elder and Chief Gallegos said in the joint statement. “He had long careers with both the Albuquerque Police Department and the Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department.”
Chief Gallegos said Sgt. Martinez loved his wife and spoke about her often.
“He was one of the most honest people I’ve known,” the chief said. “He was very passionate about his work, and he did a great job.”
Chief Gallegos gathered up the members of the APSPD on Saturday to tell them about the tragedy as a group.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the Martinez family as well as members of the APS Police Department who loved, admired, and respected Sgt. Martinez,” Elder and Chief Gallegos said.
Brutal video of a hot air balloon crash that killed five people. pic.twitter.com/bgR2FGAvgU
— Trina Hunt murder investigation account (she/her) (@VivaTrinaHunt) June 26, 2021
Our city experienced a heartbreaking accident yesterday, please keep all of those affected in your thoughts.
New Mexico doesn’t brag about much, but we definitely brag about our balloons. Albuquerque is home to the largest International Balloon Fiesta, which occurs every October pic.twitter.com/TuiTqPTkVS
— Nancy Chavez (@NancyCh82082710) June 28, 2021
KOB4: In an afternoon news conference, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller identified two of the victims of this morning's deadly hot air balloon crash: APS Police Sergeant and former APD officer Martin Martinez, and his wife, Mary Martinez. … pic.twitter.com/BIaFR9VwA3
— Georg Thomas (@SupportWFam) June 27, 2021
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department Sergeant Martin “Marty” Martinez, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.