At 11:20 AM on Thursday, thousands of US Open spectators in Erie, Wisconsin witnessed an advertising blimp deflate, burst into flames, and fall to the ground.
These days, blimps typically aren't used for transportation, but they are used for advertising at big, outdoor events. I spoke with Catherine Walsh, a representative for AirSign, the company that contracted the blimp to advertise for PenFed Credit Union. She confirmed that the pilot was the only person inside the blimp.
"The pilot is okay," she said. "He hasn't sustained any serious injuries."
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the pilot was transported to a hospital via the emergency helicopter service, Flight for Life, in order to receive treatment for burns.
According to witnesses who posted on Twitter, it appeared that the pilot used a parachute to exit the plane. However, Walsh said that that it was not possible for the pilot to have exited the blimp via parachute.
"He did not exit via parachute," she said. "Once the blimp reached the ground, he did exit it at that point."
Walsh said that AirSign has not determined the cause of the crash. But according to Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, conditions like strong winds or thunderstorms—which can put airships at risk for a crash—were not reported in Erie, Minnesota.
"What we're saying was the weather appeared to be generally fair around the area," Sosnowski told me on the phone. "It looked like Visible Flight Rules were in effect."
Visible Flight Rules are a set of International Virtual Aviation Organization regulations which confirm that weather conditions do not impede the vision of the pilot.
Walsh told me that AirSign will most likely be releasing a statement later today with more information about the crash.