Blimp crashes near course; pilot suffers burns, injuries
Some of the biggest drama at the U.S. Open took place in the sky just east of the course Thursday morning when a blimp advertising for PenFed Credit Union deflated, burst into flames and crashed.
The blimp went down about 11:15 a.m. CT about a mile from the Erin Hills golf course, where thousands of people had gathered for the first morning of competition.
The pilot was transported by a Flight for Life helicopter from the area of the crash just after noon. No one on the ground was injured. The pilot, the only occupant of the aircraft, suffered serious burns and other injuries, according to a news release from the Washington County Sheriff ’s Office.
“The initial investigation reveals the blimp may have experienced mechanical problems prior to the crash,” the release said, adding that the department “had been in contact with FAA representatives earlier in the day and determined the aircraft was lawfully operating at the proper altitude.”
The blimp was operated by AirSign, an aerial advertising firm with operations across the country. The company website says it specializes in banner, blimps and skywriting.
The pilot remained with the blimp as it slowly descended to the ground.
“He stayed with the blimp until it went down,” a spokesman for AirSign said from Florida in a telephone interview. He said a crewmember on the ground pulled the pilot from the wreckage.
The company tweeted: “Thanks to everyone for your concerns, the blimp pilot is being taken to the hospital but is expected to be OK. No details on cause of crash.”
“It started deflating, and then it started going down,” said Bryan Rosine, who noticed the blimp while he was taking a tree down. “They were trying to give it some throttle and it didn’t go up. Then there was a bunch of kabooms and smoke clouds.”
Golfer Jamie Lovemark said he saw the blimp while he was on the fifth hole at Erin Hills.
“I was teeing off, and I looked up and saw it on fire and I felt sick to my stomach,” he said. “I had the shakes. I felt terrible for the people inside. I didn’t know what was going on. It was a horrible sight.”
The blimp landed in a farmer’s field near a stand of trees and looked like a large deflated balloon. Videos show flames and explosions after the wreckage hit the ground.
The sign on the blimp advertised PenFed Credit Union, also known as the Pentagon Federal Credit Union.
The blimp took off from a small, privately operated airfield not far from the crash site, said Dan Coffey, owner of the Air Strip WN75.
Coffey said the accident was extremely unusual.
“These airships are FAA approved. They make sure that every one is inspected,” he said. “This is an extremely rare accident.”
Terry Williams, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the agency had launched an investigation into the incident and dispatched an investigator to the scene.
A blimp crashes Thursday morning east of the Erin Hills golf course that is hosting this week’s 117th U.S. Open.