"I think she was at peace up there," Jason Pino said of his sister, who was killed in the crash along with her daughter
Victims of Saturday’s hot air balloon crash shared smiling photos from their ride just moments before the tragic accident that claimed all 16 passengers’ lives.
Photos shared with loved ones and on social media captured the group’s final moments before the balloon, operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, hit a high tension power line and burst into flames, its charred remnants landing in a pasture in Lockhart, Texas.
A witness who lives near the crash site told CNN that she heard “a whoosh,” and then saw “a big ball of fire” around 7:40 a.m. on Saturday.
All 16 people onboard – 15 passengers and pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols – died in the crash that is being called the deadliest of its kind in U.S. history.
Among those killed were Matt and Sunday Rowan, both 34 and newlyweds of just six months, Brent Jones, the father of Sunday’s 5-year-old son, told CNN.
The hot air balloon ride was a gift to the San Antonio, Texas couple who wed in February, Matt’s brother, Joshua Rowan, tells PEOPLE. Sunday and Matt sent a smiling photo of themselves in the balloon to Matt’s mom just moments before the crash.
“They’re going to be incredibly missed. They made a difference in so many people’s lives,” Matt’s brother Josh Rowan told NBC News.
Two additional married couples killed in the crash have been identified as Joe and Tresa Shafer Owens of Katy, Texas, and Brian and Tressie Neill, of San Antonio, Texas.
Tressie shared a photo of herself and her husband early Saturday morning as they prepared for the flight. “Up early heading out for the anniversary surprise Brian’s had planned for months! I’m super excited! and sleepy,” she wrote.
The Neills had been married for 23 years and leave behind two daughters, ages 20 and 16.
Many of the doomed balloon ride’s passengers booked the excursion as a celebration. New mom Paige Brabson was treating her mom, Lorilee Brabson, to the trip in a hot air balloon as a belated Mother’s Day present.
Lorilee’s brother, Jason Pino, told KKTV 11 News that Lorilee called the flight her “bucket list balloon ride.” Pino said Lorilee and Paige, who had an 11-month-old daughter of her own, were sharing videos and photos on Facebook and Snapchat right up until 7:35. “And then it just stopped.”
Pino said he takes comfort in these photos as both women “looked really happy.”
“[Her post] said ‘it’s peaceful up here,’ and I think she was at peace up there,” he continued. “They were good people. Paige was really happy all the time and exciting, and my sister was really bubbly. She was one of them girls that did everything for everybody. … They were two wonderful, great girls, and it was too soon.”
The National Transportation Safety Board is now examining the photos taken by the passengers in the hopes that they will reveal more about the circumstances that led to the crash as part of their ongoing investigation with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The balloon’s pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols, has been revealed to have a lengthy arrest record, which includes multiple arrests for driving while intoxicated.
Nichols friend and room mate Alan Lirette told the Associated Press that Nichols” was a “great pilot.”