ERIN, United States (AFP) – A blimp shooting aerial images at the US Open caught fire and crashed with the pilot apparently parachuting from the aircraft as it plummeted to earth before horrified players and spectators on Thursday (June 15).
Golf stars and fans at Erin Hills Golf Course looked on in disbelief as the aircraft could be seen falling from the sky near the venue.
Local media reports and video footage of the crash shared on social media indicated a fire on board the blimp before it plunged from the sky.
Officials later said the pilot was being treated for injuries. His condition was not known.
The dramatic incident was witnessed by several players as they progressed through the opening round of their tournament.
“I was teeing off and I looked up and saw it on fire, and I felt sick to my stomach,” American Jamie Lovemark said.
“I had the shakes. I felt terrible for the people inside. I didn’t know what was going on. It was a horrible sight.
“I hope the guys got out okay. It was a horrific scene. I’ve never seen a plane crash, blimp crash, anything like that. It was pretty awful.”
World number 55 Charley Hoffman also witnessed the incident.
“I was sitting on the seventh tee and my caddie goes, ‘Look at that thing, just blew up.’. And it was going down through the air,” Hoffman said.
“I didn’t see it explode, but it definitely just happened when he tapped me on the shoulder. So I saw it fluttering down through the sky.”
Brandt Snedeker said he had been alerted to the accident by his caddie.
“He said ‘The blimp is not looking good.’ I guess it was nose down. I saw a puff of black smoke. I didn’t know it was the blimp,” Snedeker said.
Witnesses quoted by local media said it appeared the pilot had parachuted out of the blimp.
“We were watching a group finish on 18 and beyond the green we saw the blimp falling,” witness Adam Johnson told the local Action 2 news network. It appears the pilot parachuted out.”
The incident happened at around 11.55am with the opening round of the season’s second major under way at Erin Hills.
A statement from the US Golf Association confirming details of the crash said the blimp was not affiliated with the tournament or the US Open broadcast.
“First responders were quick to arrive at the scene and the pilot is currently being treated for unknown injuries,” a statement said.
“No other people were involved in the incident and local law enforcement is currently investigation.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the pilot at this time.”