Pilot saves his own bacon, glides pig-shaped balloon to landing after midair collision

The Bank of American Fork piggy bank balloon lies on the ground after crash landing near Utah Valley Regional Medical Center during America's Freedom Festival Balloon Fest in Provo, Utah, Thursday, July 2, 2015, |Photo by Grant Hindsley/The Daily Herald via AP, St. George News

PROVO — The pig couldn’t fly, the cowboy got away and the pilot’s OK.

So it went Thursday at an Independence Day festival in Utah, where officials said a pig-shaped hot-air balloon descended quickly to the ground after hitting a Wyoming cowboy-themed entry.

The Bank of American Fork piggy bank balloon crash lands near Utah Valley Regional Medical Center during America's Freedom Festival Balloon Fest in Provo, Utah, Thursday, July 2, 2015, |Photo by Grant Hindsley/The Daily Herald via AP, St. George News
The Bank of American Fork piggy bank balloon crash lands near Utah Valley Regional Medical Center during America’s Freedom Festival Balloon Fest in Provo, Utah, Thursday, July 2, 2015, | Photo by Grant Hindsley/The Daily Herald via AP, St. George News

Paul Warner, a festival executive, said the licensed pilot of the fallen balloon suffered minor burns to his face. He was treated at the scene and released.

The balloons were rising at a field near downtown Provo when the top of the pig entry crashed into the basket of the cowboy balloon. The collision ripped a hole in the nylon fabric of the pig balloon, and a piece of plastic caught fire as it descended.

The fire was not extensive, said Christopher Liechty, a spokesman for Bank of American Fork, which sponsored the balloon known as Seymour, its piggy bank mascot.

The pilot, Erwin Oertli was the only person in the balloon and suffered minor burns from melted plastic that dripped onto his face, the bank said in a statement.

“What saved my bacon, was that the head of the pig held a lot of hot air and helped the balloon to descend at a safer rate,” Oertli said in the statement.

The Bank of American Fork piggy bank balloon flies through the air before crash landing near Utah Valley Regional Medical Center during America's Freedom Festival Balloon Fest in Provo, Utah, Thursday, July 2, 2015, |Photo by Grant Hindsley/The Daily Herald via AP, St. George News
The Bank of American Fork piggy bank balloon flies through the air before crash landing near Utah Valley Regional Medical Center during America’s Freedom Festival Balloon Fest in Provo, Utah, Thursday, July 2, 2015, | Photo by Grant Hindsley/The Daily Herald via AP, St. George News

Witness Kevin Auernig, 37, of Provo said he saw the accident at America’s Freedom Festival Balloon Fest and watched the pig balloon come down fast and land in a fenced construction zone. He joked that parts of the balloon got stuck on a tree and looked like strips of bacon.

People jumped the fence to try to help the pilot, who was bleeding and appeared shaken up, Auernig said.

“We were trying to help him but the balloon was still on fire,” he said.

Warner said the pilot responded wisely by gliding the damaged balloon slowly despite the fire.

“The pilot, who is an excellent pilot, was able to control it as well as probably can be done,” Warner said. “He kept both of his burners going so that he could descend slower.”

There were no injuries reported among the thousands of spectators at the festival.

In this photo provided by Kevin Auernig, the pilot of a hot air balloon, which crash landed, helps put his basket back in his trailer after he was treated by paramedics for cuts to his face, in Provo, Utah on Thursday, July 2, 2015. The Bank of American Fork piggy bank hot air balloon crashed into a tree and caught fire at a balloon festival in Utah. (Kevin Auernig via AP)
In this photo provided by Kevin Auernig, the pilot of a hot air balloon, which crash landed, helps put his basket back in his trailer after he was treated by paramedics for cuts to his face.  The Bank of American Fork piggy bank hot air balloon crashed into a tree and caught fire at a balloon festival in Provo, Utah, July 2, 2015 | Photo by Kevin Auernig via AP, St. George News

The cause of the collision remained unknown, and the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

Warner said it wasn’t necessarily due to pilot error.

“Just one of those things that can happen when you’re under the wishes of the wind,” he said.

The cowboy balloon was not affected and kept flying with the other 30 balloons. The festival was expected to continue through Saturday.

“This is very unique. We’ve had one accident — and it was today — in 31 years,” Warner said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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4 Comments

  • old school July 3, 2015 at 10:13 am

    OH THE HUMANITY!

  • 42214 July 3, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    It had to have been Divine Intervention. Just another miracle.

  • mesaman July 3, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Will PETA or Friends of the Animals become involved since it was a piggy?

    • fun bag July 3, 2015 at 9:00 pm

      you’re the worst piggy of them all

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