Newlyweds, a Preschool Teacher, a Young Mom Among the 16 Dead in Texas Hot Air Balloon Crash

Matt and Sunday Rowan
Matt and Sunday Rowan

The newlyweds of just six months boarded the big, rectangular basket early Saturday morning, anticipating a hot-air-balloon ride that would float them high over the pasture lands of rural Lockhart, Tex., just as the sun peaked above the horizon.

It was a birthday present from her to him, according to reports, one that Matt and Sunday Rowan, both 34, had had a hard time scheduling.

Saturday finally fit.

The couple met the Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides pilot and 13 other passengers in a Walmart parking lot at 5:45 a.m., officials said, then traveled to an airpark for their 6:45 a.m. departure. The crew was delayed by about 20 minutes.

Soon they took off, dangling below a red, white and blue balloon, with large yellow, smiling faces.

At 7:29 a.m., Matt Rowan sent a message to his volleyball teammates, who were playing at a tournament he was set to join later that morning, reported NBC News, after the balloon returned safely to the ground. It was a snapshot from the air of green sprawling fields and a hazy, pinkish purple skyline.

His wife, Sunday, had spent the morning sending messages to her mother.

Then communication stopped.

The first 911 call came in at 7:43 a.m., a minute after the first power line tripped. A witness told CNN that she heard loud pops, then saw a “big ball of fire.” Aerial photos show a line of high-tension power lines towering over a patch of scorched earth. The collapsed balloon — smiley-face-side up — was found splayed in a field nearly a mile from the basket.

Matt Rowan never showed up for his volleyball game.

All 16 people onboard died, officials said, in a crash being called the deadliest of its kind in U.S. history. The family members of the Rowans were some of the first to confirm the couple was onboard — alongside a preschool teacher, her husband and a mother-daughter duo celebrating a belated Mother’s Day — as officials scrambled to notify families, a process made more difficult because there was no official participant list to ease the confirmation process, the Associated Press reported.

On Sunday, Josh Rowan, Matt Rowan’s brother, wrote on Facebook that their family had spent the day talking to numerous media outlets, “trying to tell their story.”

“We hope that we have done them justice,” Josh Rowan wrote.

The couple were friends in high school but only married in February, CNN reported. In a photo posted on Sunday Rowan’s Facebook on July 22, the couple, her 5-year-old son and the boy’s father, Brent Jones, stand together in matching red collared shirts, smiling as a family. In the comments, friends praise the group for coming together for Jett.

“We all just love Jett and each other,” Sunday Rowan replied.

She added an emoji heart.

Sunday was “obsessed with her son’s happiness,” Jones told Dallas television station Fox 4.

“It’s hard,” Jones told CNN. “But I want everyone to understand how great our lives were together and how amazing these two people are.”

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SOURCE: Katie Mettler 
The Washington Post