Blimp crashes at Wisconsin golf tournament

At the U.S. Open northwest of Milwaukee this morning, a blimp caught fire and crashed.

It happened at the start of the major tournament at Erin Hills in Erin, Wisconsin.

The hot-air blimp belonged to the Air Sign Company, an aerial advertising company based in Florida.

It had tweeted this view of things shortly before the fire.

This is not the kind of zeppelin aircraft we usually see over major sporting events. This one is closer to a hot-air balloon powered by an ultralight-like trike. It uses a thermal-heat system rather than helium to gain altitude.

By the time it reached the ground, there was little left.

If the reports the crew parachuted out are true (crash witnesses can be unreliable), it’s fortuitous planning. Parachutes are not required equipment by the FAA in airships.

[Update: AirSign tells NBC News the pilot, the only person aboard, was not seriously hurt, but has been taken to the hospital. ]

[Update 12:57 pm – A company spokesman says the pilot did not parachute but remained with the blimp/balloon until it hit the ground.]

“They were trying to give it some throttle and it didn’t go up,” witness Brian Rosine tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Then there was a bunch of kabooms and smoke clouds.”