Plummeting Balloon Snagged By Trees, Pilot Survives

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photo by Ricky Hilton

Imagine flying an airplane when both wings suddenly depart the fuselage -- that is about the kind of emergency that was faced by balloon pilot Chuck Walz last Sunday morning, when the fabric of his balloon envelope collapsed, and the aircraft plummeted toward the ground. But just before impact, the fabric snagged on a cluster of trees, breaking the fall, and the basket tipped, dumping Walz to the ground from a height of about 12 feet. He was taken to a hospital with a broken pelvis and a puncture wound to one leg, but he was conscious and alert, and by Tuesday his full recovery was said to be "promising." Walz, who is from Michigan, was competing in the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship in Anderson County, S.C. David Levin, an official with the Balloon Federation of America, which organized the event, visited Walz on Monday. "Chuck and I agreed that we witnessed the hand of God in the form of a tree that reached out and saved his life," Levin said.

Such accidents, in which the balloon envelope collapses, are rare. There is no means of recovery.