Pilot's suit may have saved his life in blimp crash

Posted at 10:57 PM, Jun 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-15 23:57:32-04

A pilot is hurt but recovering from burns at a Milwaukee hospital following a blimp crash near Erin Hills during the 2017 U.S. Open.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the fireproof pilot suit he was wearing might have saved his life when the airship exploded.

A 911 dispatcher radio captured the moment something went wrong: "We have a blimp down, manned aircraft down."

People could only watch as a blimp that was circling the U.S. Open first started to go down and explode.

"It basically just dropped straight down to the ground. When it was on the ground it exploded about two or three times," said Hunter Guetzke.

Even U.S. Open Golfer Jamie Lovemark saw it happen as he was on the course.

"I was teeing off and I looked up and I saw it on fire. And I felt sick to my stomach. I got the shakes.  I felt terrible for people inside," Lovemark said.

Even before the crash people nearby noticed something wasn't right.

"It was starting to fishtail a little bit and then I notice it starting to deflate," said witness Bryan Rosine.

The NTSB says this was the second flight of the day for the pilot when he realized there was a problem. He turned around to go back to land and turned off the fuel.

"A couple seconds later he said he heard another rip sound. The airship pitched nose down," said Pamela Sullivan, senior air safety investigator for the NTSB.

That's when the blimp caught fire and went down. The pilot was stuck in the cage but when he crashed the NTSB says he was able to drag himself away from the blimp before it exploded.

"I hope the guy is alright. You can't believe what you'd just seen. It's kind of surreal to be part of this whole weekend," said Rosine.

The NTSB says he was wearing a fire-resistant suit and gloves, which likely helped save him from more serious injures.