Pilot of downed airship at U.S. Open recalls the crash

Trevor Thompson was beyond calm on Friday evening as he recounted the harrowing moments before his thermal airship crashed near Erin Hills Golf Course during the 2017 U.S. Open.

“Yes, there was time to be scared,” he said. “I remember seeing the ground come up, tightening my shoulder straps and bracing for impact and then diving through the passenger side and trying to stand and realizing my back was broken and I kind of army crawled a few feet before my ground crew arrived and they were able to pull me before it exploded.”

Thompson clearly has the intangible quality author Tom Wolfe coined as “The Right Stuff.” He described all of his emergency procedures without a hint of emotion and his injuries as well.

“I broke my back,” he said. “I had second and third-degree burns.”

Never mind that this pilot has had two other unplanned landings in lighter-than-air vessels. He chalks it up to all of the many hours he spends in the sky.

“There’s probably only one or two other pilots in the world that fly more time than me in airships,” he said. “The more you fly, the more exposure you have.”

What this experienced aviator has yet to figure out, though, is what went wrong.

“It passed its annual inspection last September,” he said. “In fact, it passed its tear test that the NTSB did after the crash. The panels still tested strong. So something either external or internal happened outside the normal scope.”

While the why remains unclear, Thompson is thankful for where the crash happened. He has high praise for Wisconsin.

“I have to give credit to your city, to your first responders, for the attention that they gave me,” he said. “I came here as a visitor and I left as a citizen.”

Thompson also encourages all of us to support Kathy’s House, a hospital guest house in Milwaukee offering accommodations for family members of patients who are hospitalized for extended stays.

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