The airship that crashed near the U.S. Open golf tournament in Erin Hills likely suffered a catastrophic failure of its skin, said the craft’s owner.
Patrick Walsh is president of Florida-based Airsign, Inc. His company sent a thermal airship to Wisconsin to fly advertising banners over the Open.
Walsh says his pilot likely survived because he is experienced and takes special precautions before each flight.
“He wore a fireproof flight suit and that probably protected him quite a bit as well,” he said.
At the controls Thursday morning was pilot Trevor Thompson. Walsh described him as one of the most experienced pilots in the country for this type of craft.
While the craft looks like a blimp, it is much more like a hot air balloon.
The aircraft’s “envelope” is inflated with air heated by propane burners.
Thompson was burned on about 40 percent of his body in the crash.
News reports show Trevor Thompson was involved in a November 2015 “off-airport landing” in Long Island after the craft lost power.
In March, 2016, Thompson was pulled off course by rough winds near Philadelphia. The basket of his airship was dragged along the ground as the balloon deflated.
What went wrong in Erin Hills, said Patrick Walsh, will take some time to figure out.
“There's a lot of details we have to dig out to see why this happened and what caused it, but we are grateful the pilot is alive and getting care,” he said.