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U.S. Open 2017: Blimp crashes near Erin Hills during first round

A blimp crashes during the first round of

A blimp crashes during the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday, June 15, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. Credit: AP / Charlie Riedel

ERIN, Wisconsin — A blimp caught fire and crashed near the U.S. Open at Erin Hills Thursday morning during the first round of the championship golf tournament, injuring the pilot.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release on its website that the pilot was the only person on board and suffered serious burns and injuries.

“I was teeing off and I looked up and saw it on fire and I felt sick to my stomach,” said Jamie Lovemark, who was among the golfers in the morning groups. “I had the shakes. I felt terrible for the people inside. I didn’t know what was going on. It was a horrible sight ... It was a horrific scene. I’d never seen a plane crash, blimp crash, anything like that. So it was pretty awful. I thought they might stop play. It was scary.”

The USGA said on its official Twitter account that the blimp was not affiliated with the tournament or with Fox, which is televising it. The blimp was operated by Florida-based AirSign and being used for advertising, according to the Associated Press.

The Sheriff’s Office said the blimp started “rapidly descending” at 11:15 a.m. and that the crash site was about a mile from the Open. According to the Sheriff’s Office, the initial investigation revealed that the blimp may have experienced mechanical problems prior to the crash. The Sheriff’s Office said that the blimp was airborne for several hours before the crash and had been in contact earlier in the day with Federal Aviation Administration representatives, who determined the aircraft was operating at the proper altitude.

The Sheriff’s Office said it is assisting the FAA and National Transportation Safety Bureau with the investigation.

“My caddie made a comment on the ninth hole,” Brandt Snedeker said. “He said, ‘The blimp is not looking good.’ I guess it was nose down. I saw a puff of black smoke. It’s not good. Glad everybody is OK.”

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