UPDATE: NTSB says pilot who crashed at U.S. Open is in stable co - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

UPDATE: NTSB says pilot who crashed at U.S. Open is in stable condition

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(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). A blimp crashes during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Thursday, June 15, 2017, near Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. AirSign, an advertising company, operates the blimp. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). A blimp crashes during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Thursday, June 15, 2017, near Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. AirSign, an advertising company, operates the blimp.
(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). A blimp crashes during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Thursday, June 15, 2017, near Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. AirSign, an advertising company, operates the blimp. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel). A blimp crashes during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Thursday, June 15, 2017, near Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. AirSign, an advertising company, operates the blimp.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says the pilot of an airship that crashed near the U.S. Open is in stable condition.

Pam Sullivan with the NTSB says he was able to speak before he was taken to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. 

Sullivan says the pilot was interviewed by the Washington County Sheriff's Office. He told investigators he had just taken off after refueling the aircraft and got up to 1,000 feet in the air when he determined winds were too gusty. While descending, the pilot hit an updraft, which lifted him back up into the air. At this point, Sullivan says the pilot vented some of the air in the aircraft so he could continue descending, but that's when he heard a ripping sound. Seconds later, the pilot heard another ripping sound.

"The airship pitched nose-down, he turned off the manifold, the fuel to the burners. However, the envelope started collapsing and the burners were still burning the residual fuel. The envelope caught fire and he impacted the ground," Sullivan explained. 

The pilot, who has not yet been identified, was wearing a suit to protect him in case of a fire. It's a safety precaution Sullivan said likely saved his life. 

"He did have a Nomex suit on and Nomex gloves," she said. "We're assuming that was probably a huge factor in protecting him."

The pilot did manage to crawl away from the wreckage just moments before several explosions, according to NTSB investigators. He escaped with only a few burns, according to Sullivan.

However, she did investigate the scene for a couple hours Thursday afternoon. 

"The actual air frame, which is a tubular frame or a cockpit area if you will, everything is burned around that," Sullivan said as she described the wreckage. As far as we could tell, the burners are still attached. Portions of the envelope are melted from the fire."

The scary moments in the sky was seen by spectators at the nearby U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills. Many visitors captured the ordeal on their cellphones. One golfer even saw the ordeal. 

"I was teeing off and I looked up and I saw it on fire, and I felt sick to my stomach. I had the shakes, you know, I felt terrible for the people inside,:" said Jamie Lovemark, a golfer playing in the tournament. 

A father and son, Tim and Hunter Guetzke, were on their way home when they saw the blimp hybrid flying around and decided to follow it. They noted many locals in the area don't usually see blimps flying around. But then, disaster struck and that's when Hunter started recording on his phone. 

"Once it kind of hit the ground, you could see it start to get smokey and then it started to burn a bit better and all of a sudden there was a kind of a fire like explosion. A bit of a fire ball and then a little bit after that there was another, and then it ended up being like three explosions," Hunter said.

"When you see something like that, you just get a terrible feeling in your stomach, like oh my God, that's a person that something terrible is happening to. And then a little while later we heard he was alive and it's like, whoa, we feel so much better that he's going to make it. When we saw it hit the ground I would have never thought anybody would survive with the flames bursting up the way they did," Tim explained. 

The NTSB will lead the investigation into the crash. Officials say it could take as long as six months to a year to complete the entire investigation. 


The Washington County Sheriff's Office is releasing more information related to Thursday's blimp crash at the U.S. Open.

They say around 11:15 a.m. a deputy at a security post reported seeing a lighter than air aircraft on fire, or smoking, and rapidly descending. Hartford Fire was immediately paged and Ashippun Fire used a utility type vehicle to access the crash site. Both Ashippun and Hartford Fire Departments were staged at the 2017 U.S. Open and were able to quickly respond.

The pilot, and sole occupant, was taken via Flight for Life with serious burns and injuries.

The initial investigation shows the blimp may have experienced mechanical problems prior to the crash. The Sheriff's Office has been in contact with the FAA and NTSB to assist with the onsite investigation.

The advertising blimp had been airborne for several hours prior to the incident and it has been determined the craft was lawfully operating at the proper altitude.


An official with the company operating an advertising blimp at the U.S. Open says the pilot is "OK" after the craft crashed but that he is being taken to a hospital.

Justin Maynard, a sales manager for Florida-based AirSign, says the company's operations team on the ground reported on the pilot's status.

He says he has no additional information on the crash that happened during the tournament's opening round in Erin, Wisconsin.


ERIN, Wis. (AP) - A blimp flying over the U.S. Open has gone down and the aircraft's operator says he doesn't know if the pilot is alive.

Justin Maynard is a sales manager for AirSign, the advertising company that operates the blimp.

Maynard says only the pilot was on board the craft. He says the company's operations team on the ground confirmed citizen video on social media showing the blimp going down.

Maynard says he is "not 100 percent" on the condition of the pilot but that believes he is alive.


ERIN (WKOW)  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting a blimp crashed late Thursday morning near the U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

There aren't any details at this point of what happened, however, some are reporting the blimp apparently was on fire before hitting the ground near Highways 83 and 167.

One witness tweeted the pilot looked to have parachuted to safety.

WISN is reporting that the blimp is owned by AirSign, a Florida based company. A company spokesperson told the station that they believed only one person was aboard. The company had sent out a couple of posts on their Twitter feed shortly before the crash, seen below.

One person has been airlifted from the scene.

Madison Seigworth shared this video of the crash. 

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