Watch: Pilot suffers "serious" burns after blimp suffers 'catastrophic failure' near Erin Hills
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ERIN -- Flight for Life was called out to the area near Erin Hills Golf Course after a blimp went down in an open field in the Town of Erin Thursday, June 15th, Washington County sheriff's officials said.
Sheriff's officials said a deputy at a security post reported seeing the "lighter than air" aircraft on fire, rapidly descending around 11:15 a.m.
The advertising blimp was being used at the U.S. Open, sheriff's officials said. The crash happened east of the grounds, in an open field. Hartford fire officials responded to the area near Highway 83 and Terry Road.
Officials with the Ashippun Fire Department had to use a utility-type vehicle to access the crash site, which was approximately .75 miles to the east of State Highway 83.
Both fire departments were staged at the U.S. Open and able to quickly respond, sheriff's officials said.
According to the CEO of AirSign, the company that owns the blimp, there was a "catastrophic failure" of the air ship's envelope, or the outer skin. They're not sure at this point why the failure happened. Patrick Walsh told FOX6 News "it's a very unfortunate situation" and it's something that "has never happened in their history."
Walsh confirmed one person was on the blimp at the time. He said the pilot's name is Trevor Thompson. Walsh said he is "the most sought after pilot to fly this type of blimp model."
Thompson was able to climb out of the blimp. He did not parachute out, Walsh said.
A fire happened when the blimp crashed, Walsh said. An explosion was the result of the propane tanks bursting after the air ship crashed. The pilot was pulled away from the scene.
That pilot was burned, but not critically, Walsh said. He was taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries not believed to be life-threatening.
The blimp is a "thermal air ship," Walsh said, operating similarly to a hot air balloon. Propane heaters are used to heat the air and lift the air ship.
Walsh said he's been in contact with the NTSB and FAA -- and they were scheduled to fly the blimp every day during the U.S. Open.
According to sheriff's officials, the advertising blimp had been airborne for several hours prior to the incident and the Sheriff’s Office had been in contact with FAA representatives earlier in the day and determined the aircraft was lawfully operating at the proper altitude.
The below statement was issued by the USGA:
"According to local authorities, a commercial blimp not affiliated with the USGA or the U.S. Open Championship broadcast crashed in an open field approximately a half mile from the Erin Hills Golf Course at approximately 11:15 a.m.
First responders were quick to arrive at the scene and the pilot is currently being treated for unknown injuries.
No other people were involved in the incident and local law enforcement is currently investigating.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot at this time."
Witnesses said a good Samaritan immediately jumped into action after the crash. He said he heard loud explosions, and knew someone may be in need of help.
When Thomas Cook arrived at the scene, he said he saw the pilot being treated by paramedics. He immediately asked what he could do to help, and at one point, he offered to take a paramedic to get sheets to cover burn injuries before Flight for Life arrived, simply saying it felt wrong not to help.
"He had burns on his left arm that I could see, on the back of his left arm. I didn't see his face directly, but I understand from what they were saying that he had burns on the right side of his face, and some on his back," Cook said.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office is seeking pictures or video of the blimp in distress. Anyone with information is asked to contact sheriff's officials at (262) 335-4378.
Monitor FOX6 News and FOX6Now.com for updates on this developing story.