Blimp crashes near course; pi­lot suf­fers burns, in­juries

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Bill Glauber, James B. Nelson and Mad­die Koss Glauber, Nelson and Koss write for the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel, part of the USA TO­DAY Net­work.

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.

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