From the Pantagraph:
CHATSWORTH — One person was injured in a hot-air balloon mishap at the Chatsworth sesquicentennial celebration Thursday evening, but the balloon landed safely a short distance away. Four balloons were preparing to launch shortly before 6:30 p.m. when the incident occurred. Witnesses said the wind was calm before the accident. Livingston County Sheriff Tony Childress said Friday, “Apparently, there was a wind gust that caused one balloon to lift up.” The basket tipped and the pilot fell out, he said. The pilot was transported to OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington. Childress said he did not know whether the pilot, whom he did not name, was hospitalized. “It's our understanding at this point that the injuries were not life-threatening,” said Childress. “No one was injured other than the individual that fell out of the basket.” The sheriff said the incident remains under investigation. Mayor Richard Runyon, who was at opening ceremonies elsewhere at the time, said, “Luckily they knew enough to go past the power lines and out of town before pulling the rope” to bring down the balloon. According to one witness, Wayne Germain of Pontiac, “People followed it on the ground and told them what to do.” Other bystanders told him some passengers got bumps and bruises when the baskets dragged along the ground. “Thank God there weren't any serious injuries,” he said. Germain shot video as the drama unfolded. “It was frightening,” said Germain, noting the wind had been calm for hours. “Out of nowhere, a gust of wind came — 20 mph at least,” he said. “Twenty seconds later, it was calm again.” But in those 20 seconds, there was chaos — and it didn't end when the wind stopped. Four balloons were lined up to take riders aloft and crews had just started to fill the colorful balloons with hot air when the gust blew in. Shortly after the video begins, the wind grabs one of the balloons. Germain notes, “You can hear the rope snap and see a guy fall about 4 feet.” That balloon collided with a second balloon, which had its basket dragged along the ground until it collided with a third balloon, goes airborne, then hits the ground hard before rising up again, with the pilot hanging almost upside down on the side of the basket. He pulls on a cord and falls as the basket hit the ground hard with the balloon again going aloft — this time, without its pilot. Germain said it was fortunate two of the teams were able to quickly deflate their balloons, none of the balloons went into the crowd of spectators and the pilot-less balloon was able to land safely with directions from the ground. Childress said the balloon “didn't crash” but floated and came to rest at another location. Germain, a hot-air balloon enthusiast, said, “In my 30 years of watching hot-air balloons … I've never seen a gust of wind come across like that.” His video of the incident quickly went viral on the internet, receiving more than 100,000 views on Facebook, in addition to being shown on various television outlets. Germain said he has received calls “from around the world” from people involved in hot-air ballooning who want to use his video for educational and training purposes and he is happy to share it. “I'm glad I got the opportunity to video it,” he said. Although he described it as “a freak accident,” Germain said seeing how quickly conditions can change has cooled his desire to go airborne. “I always wanted to fly in a balloon but couldn't afford it,” he said. “Now, I don't want to go. No, thank you.” The Chatsworth sesquicentennial celebration continues Saturday, with music, fireworks and other entertainment, but Runyon said the hot-air balloon rides will not be rescheduled.