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Tue, Sep 02, 2008

Joe Heartsill Winner Of 2008 US National Hot Air Balloon Championship

And From All Indications, Fellow Competitor Chuck Walz Is One VERY Lucky Guy

The results are in from the 2008 US National Hot Air Balloon Championship, held last week in Anderson, SC -- with Joe Heartsill of San Angelo, TX named the overall winner out of 46 pilots competing in the annual event, which was held concurrently with Anderson's Great Southeast Balloonfest.

Hampered in the beginning by persistent heavy rains, the competition was not without some tense moments... one of them very scary. A spokesman with the Balloon Federation of America tells ANN balloonist Chuck Walz of Munith, MI was injured Saturday, when his balloon crashed during the competition.

Witness reports say Walz's balloon suffered a rapid descent from about 9,000 feet, possibly due to a tear in the hot-air balloon's envelope. The balloon's gondola impacted a stand of trees about 10 feet from the ground -- quite likely saving Walz's life, though leaving him with serious injuries.

"The (basket) snapped a branch that was about 10 inches in diameter," Anderson Fire Department spokesman Adam Zenoni told the Jackson (SC) Citizen Patriot. "If he hadn't landed in that tree, it would have been a lot different of an outcome. I don't think he would have survived without the tree."

Even though he suffered a broken pelvis and a large puncture wound to his leg, Walz reportedly joked with the medical staff as they tended to his injuries and prepared him for transport to an area hospital. Walz hoped to be transported home to Michigan this week for treatment and recovery from his pelvis injury.

Competition wrapped up Monday, with Heartsill (above) claiming his fifth national title following wins in 1992, '97, '99, and 2007. Heartsill becomes the Balloon Federation of America's second most prolific National Champion, as only Bruce Comstock has won more titles at six.

Heartsill is also only the fifth pilot to win back-to-back National titles, following Jimmy Craig in the '60's, Bruce Comstock in the '60s, Al Nels in the 80s and Paul Petrehn in 2004 and '05.

Owen Keown, Steve Jones, Nick Donner and Craig Bradley rounded out the Top 5. Keown's 2nd place finish also earned him the Duane C. Clark Memorial Award as the highest ranked senior pilot at 60 years of age or older.

Curves pilot Ron Frusher of Waco, TX finished 7th and took Rookie of the Year honors. There were a total of 12 rookies in the 46 pilot field.

As for the winner of the organization's Elizabeth J. Domont Memorial Award for safety... well, it was no contest. The Anderson Fire Department was the clear winner, for their rescue of Walz.

IDENTIFICATION
  Regis#: 61ZL        Make/Model: ZL60      Description: CAMERON BALLOON ZL-60
  Date: 08/31/2008     Time: 1253

  Event Type: Accident   Highest Injury: Serious     Mid Air: N    Missing: N
  Damage: Substantial

LOCATION
  City: ANDERSON   State: SC   Country: US

DESCRIPTION
  HOT AIR BALLOON LOST ALTITUDE AND CRASHED INTO TREES,  NEAR ANDERSON, SC

INJURY DATA      Total Fatal:   0
                 # Crew:   1     Fat:   0     Ser:   1     Min:   0     Unk:   
                 # Pass:   0     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   
                 # Grnd:         Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   

WEATHER: KAND 311256Z 04005KT 10SM CLR 24/20 A3011

OTHER DATA
  Activity: Pleasure      Phase: Unknown      Operation: OTHER


  FAA FSDO: COLUMBIA, SC  (SO13)                  Entry date: 09/02/2008

FMI: www.bfa.net

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