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Blimp crashes near U.S. Open after catching fire

Blimp crashes at U.S. Open

A blimp caught fire and crashed to the ground near the 117th U.S. Open golf tournament, injuring the pilot and causing an explosion on the ground.

AirSign, an advertising firm, was operating the blimp. Patrick Walsh, the company's CEO, tells CBS News the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Walsh says the pilot, who has been identified as Trevor Thompson, was the only person on board the blimp. The pilot suffered serious burns in the crash, CBS affiliate WDJT-TV reports. There were no other injuries on the ground.

Jeff Alstadter, a spokesman for the U.S. Golf Association (USGA), said in a statement that the blimp crashed around 11:15 a.m. local time in an open field a half mile from the golf course. He stated the blimp was not affiliated with the USGA or the tournament.

Aerial footage captured by Fox Sports 1 shows the moment the flaming blimp exploded.

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A blimp explodes after crashing near the U.S. Open in Wisconsin. Fox Sports 1

Twitter users posted clips showing the blimp falling from the sky near the golf tournament, which is being held at Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, Wisconsin.

WDJT reporter Julie Parise‏ was on the scene as a helicopter arrived to transport the pilot to a hospital:

PenFed Credit Union was the blimp's sponsor for the tournament, which got underway Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are in contact with the sheriff's office and assisting with the investigation into the cause of the crash.

Late Thursday the NTSB said the pilot had been interviewed by detectives with the Washington County Sheriff's Office, but the NTSB didn't talk to him yet, according to Pamela S. Sullivan, a senior air safety investigator with the NTSB.

Sullivan said the pilot was able to crawl away from the burning wreckage and that he was wearing a protective suit and gloves.

"He did have some burns, but that, we're assuming, probably was a huge factor in protecting him," she said.

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Medical personnel transport the injured pilot of a blimp that crashed in a field near the U.S. Open golf tournament on Thu., June 15, 2017. The blimp, advertising for PenFed Credit Union, deflated and burst into flames. The pilot was transported by Flight for Life from the area of the crash just after noon during the first round for the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills Golf Club. Mark Hoffman/Journal-Sentinel via USA TODAY Network

Thompson had just taken off on his second flight of the day in a hybrid of a typical blimp and a balloon envelope when he decided it was too windy and planned to return to a private airstrip, The Associated Press reported.

He encountered an updraft on his way down and vented some of the air from the envelope so he could drop back down.

"When he was doing that he heard a sound similar to some of the panels ripping on the balloon," Sullivan said. "A couple seconds later he said he heard another rip sound. The airship pitched nose down."

"He turned off the manifold, the fuel to the burners. However, the envelope started collapsing and the burners were still burning the residual fuel. The envelope caught fire," Sullivan explained.

Mary Ruediger, 45, was visiting her parents who live along an access road to the golf course and spotted the blimp going down.

"It was kind of floating and was deflating and I could see flames. Then it went behind the trees," Ruediger told the AP. She said she drove toward the site where the blimp hit the ground.

"You could see the black smoke and then there were three big fireballs as it exploded," she said.

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View of the blimp after it crashed in a field near the U.S. Open golf tournament on Thu., June 15, 2017. The blimp, advertising for PenFed Credit Union, deflated and burst into flames during the first round for the U.S. Open golf tournament at Erin Hills Golf Club. Mark Hoffman/Journal-Sentinel via USA TODAY Network
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