ERIN, Wis. (AP) The fabric envelope of a hot-air blimp ripped and caused it to crash near the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report Monday.
The fiery, smoky crash seriously injured the pilot, Trevor Thompson, and destroyed the Gefa-Flug AS-105-GD thermal airship owned by Florida-based AirSign, which was using it for aerial advertising for a credit union at the golf tournament on June 15.
The airship had just taken off on its second flight of the day when the pilot radioed his ground crew that it was too windy and he was turning back. The pilot was approaching the airstrip at Erin Aero Airport at an altitude of about 200 feet when he encountered a thermal updraft, which sent the airship up to 500 feet.
The pilot tried to release hot air to descend when he heard one fabric panel tear, and then another seconds later, the NTSB report said. The pilot shut off the blimp’s propane burners, but part of the envelope collapsed around the burners and caught fire, it said. The airship descended nose down and crashed about a half mile from the course, about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee.
Thompson suffered some burns but was wearing fire-resistant clothing and gloves. He was able to crawl away from the wreckage and to speak with law enforcement officers shortly after the crash.