Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hot air balloon crashes into power lines in Lake County, Florida

Pilot Chuck Rohr kept his cool through a shower of sparks after his hot-air balloon clipped power lines this morning east of Eustis.

"I felt I had it under control," said Rohr, 73, founder of Rohr Balloons in Lake County. "If I had panicked something major could have happened."

One of the two passengers aboard the balloon burned his hand. Rohr and the other passenger were not injured.

Rohr stood on the side of County Road 44A near Bear Tracks Road and pointed to trees south of his business' warehouse. He said that the branches blocked the power lines from view as he and two friends were floating back toward the warehouse to land.

Meanwhile, Rhett Whitfield, a 16-year-old Rohr Balloons "chaser," was doing his job from the ground, following the balloon in his car and on foot. He had just pulled to the side of the road near the warehouse when he looked up and saw the point between basket and balloon bump the power lines.

"There was a bunch of lightning shocks coming off the balloon," Rhett said. "It was pretty scary. I didn't know what was happening."

Terry Benton, who lives next to the balloon business, said he was walking his dog when he heard what "sounded like a loud roaring noise." He didn't see the collision, but the power went out at his house for about 30 minutes, he said.

However, after the chaos, Rhett said he was able to help Rohr safely land the balloon in a field next to the warehouse.

Rohr said he's been flying hot-air balloons with his business for more than 40 years. He opened a branch in Lake County about 10 years ago when he moved to the area. His brother, Brian, operates another branch in McKinney, Texas.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

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