The pilot of one of the famed Goodyear blimps died in Germany over the weekend after the giant airship caught on fire and eventually plummeted to the ground. German newspaper Der Spiegel reports that the pilot is being hailed as a hero after he fought to keep the blimp afloat long enough, and close enough to the ground, to allow his three passengers to jump to safety:
The blimp, part of an advertising campaign for the Goodyear tire company, was about to land at an airfield in Reichelsheim in western Germany when fire broke out in both engines, according to media reports.
Bild newspaper reported that the pilot, an Australian, called out to the passengers: "We're having a crash!" and told them to jump out of the cabin, which was hovering just 2 meters (6.6 feet) above the ground at the time. As soon as they had hurled themselves to safety, the airship soared rapidly to a height of around 50 meters, possibly due to the sudden loss of weight in the cabin, making it impossible for the pilot to escape, eyewitnesses said.
The blimp then became engulfed in flames and fell back to the ground in a ball of fire. The passengers were a press photographer and a TV crew who had been on a two-and-a-half-hour round trip to get aerial shots of a public festival.
The Daily Mail has some of the photos:
You can see more of the incredible photos here.
Goodyear e-mailed The Blaze with a statement:
An airship owned and operated by Lightship Europe Limited caught fire at Reichelsheim Airfield in Germany on Sunday evening.
One member of the flight crew suffered fatal injuries. His relatives have been informed. There were no injuries to passengers or ground crew.
Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the crew member, and also with our colleagues and the passengers involved with the airship tour in Germany.
The Airship is one of two leased by Goodyear from Lightship Europe Limited for marketing purposes in Europe. The second airship has been withdrawn from service until further notice.
As is customary in incidents involving aircraft, the aviation and local authorities have initiated an investigation. Goodyear and Lightship Europe Limited can not speculate on causes.
New video shows the blimp falling from the sky. Watch it here.