Had Been Carrying Skydivers When Weather Closed In
The body of the pilot of a hot air balloon which encountered severe weather during a skydiving flight in south Georgia over the weekend has been located. Searchers in a helicopter located the balloon, and directed a ground crew to the location where the body was found.
Edward Ristaino. 63, of Cornelius, NC had been piloting the balloon during a local festival in Fitzgerald, GA, when the storm blew up. The Associated Press reports that he had five skydivers on board at the time, and one of them told the Charlotte Observer later that Ristaino told them all to jump as the storm approached. All said the pilot's actions saved their lives. One of the skydivers said that the storm "came out of nowhere."
After the skydivers exited the aircraft, authorities said the storm's updrafts carried the balloon to about 18,000 feet. It then apparently collapsed and fell to the ground.
Ristaino was briefly in radio contact with authorities as he fell, giving altitude information he hoped would assist the search, according to Ben Hill County Sheriff Bobby McLemore. In his last transmission on a handheld radio, he reportedly said "I'm at 2,000 feet and I see trees."