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Balloon Pilot Edward Ristaino: "You Need To Get Out Now."
| Mar 19, 2012
| By JEFF MARTIN and TOM BREEN
Posted on 03/20/2012 12:28:59 AM PDT by Yosemitest
As a fierce thunderstorm that seemed to come out of nowhere closed in, hot-air balloon pilot Edward Ristaino spotted an open field 4,000 feet below and calmly and tersely warned the five skydivers aboard the craft,
"You need to get out now."
He may have saved their lives, but he lost his own.
With lightning spidering across the sky and the wind rocking their parachutes, the skydivers floated safely to the ground, while the balloon was sucked up into the clouds, then sent crashing to earth. Ristaino's body wasn't found until Monday, nearly three days later.
"If we would have left a minute later, we would have been sucked into the storm," said skydiver Dan Eaton.
The group had taken off Friday evening, ascending into a blue sky from a festival in Fitzgerald, Ga., about 175 miles south of Atlanta. From the air, they could see only a haze that soon turned menacing.
"It started off as just a red dot on the radar, and then it mushroomed very quickly into a big storm. This one just popped up out of the blue,"
Ben Hill County Sheriff Bobby McLemore said.
The 63-year-old Ristaino sighted a 15-acre clearing, then told the skydivers to get out, uttering the words with remarkable calm.
Skydiver Dennis Valdez said he regrets not strapping the pilot in with him when he jumped, but he didn't realize how dire the situation was.
"We had no idea what was going on in the pilot's head," Valdez said. "It was only apparent to me post facto that he was definitely very nervous about the weather, rushing to get us out of there."
Likewise, skydiver Jessica Wesnofske said she didn't comprehend how bad the storm had become until the winds whipped and rocked her parachute on the way down.
Ristaino operated a balloon sightseeing company out of his home in Cornelius, N.C., about 20 miles north of Charlotte. He was described as a superb balloonist.
An updraft took Ristaino into the clouds, 17,000 or 18,000 feet up, he told his ground crew via walkie-talkie. Then the storm apparently collapsed the balloon and twisted it into a streamer. In his last transmission, he reported that he was at 2,000 feet and saw trees beneath him, according to the sheriff.
After searching the woods with helicopters, airplanes, horses and all-terrain vehicles, crews found Ristaino's body in the gondola of his twisted-up craft, about eight miles from where the skydivers landed.
The storm's chaotic crosscurrents had complicated searchers' efforts to figure out where the balloon crashed. Authorities used radar images of the storm to help guide the 50 to 75 searchers across 12 to 15 square miles.
"He could take that balloon, blow it up in his front yard and take it up, missing all those power lines and everything," said Carole White, a neighbor. "He's been doing this for years and years. He loves it."
Balloon pilots have to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, a process that includes training in such things as safety and meteorology.
Troy Bradley, president of the Balloon Federation of America, said that with the growing sophistication of radar technology and the wealth of radar data now available, ballooning accidents involving storms are rare. But sudden weather changes occasionally catch pilots aloft, he said.
Eaton, who has jumped from planes, helicopters and the occasional hot air balloon, said he knows enough about skydiving to recognize when he shouldn't go up. And Friday, he said, wasn't one of those days.
"We never saw it coming," he said. "We had blue skies all day. There was no issue. If there was an issue about the winds, I wouldn't have jumped. It's just not worth it."
On his way down, Valdez said, he felt helpless as he watched the outline of Ristaino's balloon fade into a storm cloud.
"He put us before he put his own safety," Valdez said.
TOPICS: Extended News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: balloon; edwardristaino
No greater love...
posted on 03/20/2012 1:00:22 AM PDT
by Smokin' Joe
(How often God must weep at humans' folly. Stand fast. God knows what He is doing)
Too bad he didn't have a Parachute for himself.
RIP, a very brave man.
posted on 03/20/2012 1:15:27 AM PDT
by Kickass Conservative
(A day without Obama is like a day without a Tsunami.)
To: Kickass Conservative
I can’t think of any good reason for a balloon pilot to NOT wear a parachute for those times when things are not perfect.
One rip cord is worth an infinite number of RIP chords.
posted on 03/20/2012 2:05:30 AM PDT
Prayers...that must have been one heck of a last ride! Gives me chills.
posted on 03/20/2012 3:56:00 AM PDT
Kinda like a boater without a life preserver.
posted on 03/20/2012 4:10:01 AM PDT
Sorry but the pilot was an idiot for taking off. Look at the video of the pre-take off inflation: dark clouds everywhere. “the thunderstorm just popped up out of nowhere” is pure BS.
posted on 03/20/2012 6:23:51 AM PDT
(Repent now, for the end of our time is at hand.)
“Hot Air Ballon” aka “Death Trap”.
One of my cousins went for an “innocent” ride in a hot-air balloon. A (freak?) gust of wind blew the balloon into a high tension power line (one of the big ones, metal tower type). Balloon hung up and ignited. She and pilot burned to death. She was about 23. Horrible.
posted on 03/20/2012 7:23:34 AM PDT
(Those of us who work for a living are outnumbered by those who vote for a living.)
Well, at least he went out doing something he enjoyed.
posted on 03/20/2012 7:51:46 AM PDT
(Lame and ill-informed post)
Exactly. Somebody asked me why I got a new motorcycle at my age. I said I wasn’t planning on dying a nursing home. This life doesn’t last.
posted on 03/20/2012 9:37:37 AM PDT
(I lost some time once. It's always in the last place you look.)
To: Wonder Warthog
Hot Air Ballon aka Death Trap.
One of my cousins went for an innocent ride in a hot-air balloon. A (freak?) gust of wind blew the balloon into a high tension power line (one of the big ones, metal tower type). Balloon hung up and ignited. She and pilot burned to death. She was about 23. Horrible.
When I was 13, I had a cousin walking along a sidewalk who was hit and killed by a driver not paying attention. Does that mean sidewalks are "death traps" as well? If so, I'll try to avoid them in the future.
He sounds like a brave and decent man.
May his soul Rest In Peace.
Sidewalks (as in walking beside streets) are necessary in life. Hot air balloons are not. Stupid, dangerous, and frivolous devices.
To: Big Giant Head
This is the story, in case you missed it.
posted on 03/21/2012 6:00:20 AM PDT
by Marie Antoinette
(Newt Gingrich 2012 - The Man With a Plan)
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