Pilot glides pig balloon down after crash at Utah festival

The pilot of a pig-shaped suffered a minor injury Thursday when the pig-shaped balloon he was guiding descended quickly to the ground at an Independence Day festival in Utah after hitting a Wyoming cowboy-themed entry.

The pilot, Erwin Oertli, suffered minor burns to his face and was treated and released at the scene, said festival executive Paul Warner.

Oertli was the only one in the balloon when the melted plastic that dripped onto his face burned him, Christopher Liechty, a spokesman for Bank of American Fork, said in a statement. The bank sponsored the balloon known as Seymour, its piggy bank mascot.

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, the statement said.

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

Auering said people jumped the fence to help the pilot, who was bleeding and appeared to be shaken up.

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

"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.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report