On Thursday, a blimp above the Erin Hills golf course in Wisconsin, where the U.S. Open started, caught fire and crashed about half a mile away from the golfers, and there’s video of the incident. The pilot was the only person on board and is seriously burned.
The cause of the crash remains unknown, but the blimp appears to have begun deflating over the course, releasing smoke before it hit the ground and the propane tanks exploded. Although people at the U.S. Open reported seeing the pilot parachute out, the company that operates the blimp says the pilot rode the blimp to the ground. AirSign, the company that owns the blimp, says the pilot is expected to be okay despite his injuries.
The scene of the blimp crash is particularly eerie as it sank quickly and quietly to the ground while the golfers maintained their professional silence. From the video, the blimp appears to be smoking or on fire before it reaches the ground and the front half appears to be mostly deflated.
The odd cross shape of the blimp that remains pointed up, slowing its decent, appears to be the very back of the blimp, which was flying advertisements over the U.S. Open as it took pictures.
At about the point where the blimp was hovering over the trees on its way down, witnesses reported seeing what looked like the pilot parachuting out. Since AirSign has since stated that the pilot rode the blimp to the ground, it seems like that must have been some sort of debris floating out of the blimp instead.
Once the blimp hit the ground it became engulfed in flames. Blimps fly because their tanks are full of helium gas, which is non-flammable, but propane tanks are used onboard blimps to power the engine that moves a blimp forward and heats envelopes of air that are used for some aspects of height control. Local news on the scene reports that the final explosion happened when the propane tanks onboard the blimp caught fire and exploded.
Since it looks like the rear end of the blimp manages to stay partially inflated as the blimp sinks and later explodes, it’s possible that the problem occurred in the air pocket in the front end of the blimp. The Associated Press is now reporting that the pilot was seriously burned in the crash.
AirSign has reported that the pilot managed to get clear of the blimp before it caught on fire and was immediately taken to a hospital to treat his injuries. It is unclear how injured the pilot is, but AirSign tweeted that the pilot is expected to be okay.