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Search Continues for Hot Air Balloonist Who Saved 5 Skydivers Before Balloon Crash


Authorities are still searching for a hot air balloon pilot who saved the lives of five skydivers before his balloon crashed to the ground at an estimated 2,000 feet per minute.

Edward Ristaino, 63, took the skydivers up in his balloon during a festival in Fitzgerald, Georgia before stormy weather hit.  Aware that he was losing control, Ristaino maneuvered the balloon over a field and told the divers to jump.  None were injured.

Maintaining contact with the ground crew over a walkie-talkie, Ristaino said that an updraft then took him into the clouds, to 17,000 or 18,000 feet. 

Next, according to the sheriff, "He [made] the statement that I'm at 2,000 feet and I see trees and that was his last transmission."

Jessica Wesnofske, one of the skydivers, said, "He saved our lives.  Another minute, we would have been in the storm with him."

Erin Daly, whose brother was on the balloon, also said Ristaino was a hero who saved lives.

Authorities have not yet found the balloon, but crews in helicopters, airplanes and on foot have resumed their search of an area roughly 12 to 15 square miles.  They are studying radar imagery of the storm to help pinpoint exactly where he could have landed.

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