A pilot has suffered serious burns after the advertising blimp he was flying burst into flames and crashed over the US Open golf tournament on Thursday.
The man was the only person aboard when the blimp crashed shortly before midday at the Erin Hills golf course in Wisconsin. The blimp went down in an open field about half a mile from the course.
The pilot survived the crash but suffered serious burns, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. Flames and smoke were spotted spewing from the blimp shortly before it crashed and erupted into a fireball.
Some witnesses say plumes of smoke were visible rising among the trees from a distance. Another said the side of the blimp started deflating and caught fire as it headed toward the ground. Stunned onlookers captured the ordeal on video and claimed to have seen someone parachute from the blimp shortly before it crashed.
But a spokesman for AirSign, the Florida-based operator of the aircraft, said the pilot was still on the blimp as it plummeted, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.
‘He stayed with the blimp until it went down,’ the spokesman said, adding that a first responder pulled the pilot from the wreck.
Emergency services treated the pilot on the ground before he was airlifted to hospital by Flight For Life.
The aircraft, which was operated by the advertising company AirSign, was not affiliated with the US Open.
A US Open statement read: ‘A blimp unaffiliated with the US Open or Fox Sports has crashed near Erin Hills. Pilot was injured and first responders are on the scene.
‘Our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured.’
The blimp was hovering above the course shooting pictures of the second major of the golfing calendar when the incident unfolded.
The sheriff’s office asked the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board to help investigate the cause.