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Blimp crashes near site of U.S. Open; pilot suffers serious burns and other injuries

Eyes were turned skyward Thursday as spectators at Erin Hills watched a blimp as it caught on fire and crashed to the ground about a mile from the course.

Witnesses reported seeing a person parachute from the blimp, but a spokesman for AirSign said that the pilot stayed with the vehicle until it hit the ground.

The pilot suffered serious burns and other injuries, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said in a release. He was taken to a hospital.

Shortly after the blimp crashed into an empty field, a fireball rose from its front end as the fire grew more intense.

No one on the ground was hurt.

“The initial investigation reveals the blimp may have experienced mechanical problems prior to the crash,” the release from the sheriff’s office said. “The sheriff’s office has been in contact with both the Federal Aviation Administration as well as the National Transportation Safety Bureau to assist with the on-site investigation.”

The blimp, advertising PenFed Credit Union, was operated by AirSign, a firm that specializes in aerial advertising.

Missed opportunities

Jordan Spieth figured that he had 15 good birdie chances Thursday. He converted one.

“I hit the ball phenomenal,” he said after carding a one-over 73. “It was maybe the best driving round I’ve had in my life. Just didn’t make anything. A really off day putting.”

Once viewed as golf’s best putter, the 2015 U.S. Open champion found the fairway on 13 of his 14 drives and hit 14 greens. And yet …

“I had a couple of lip-outs, I left two short and then I miss one right and the next one left,” he said. “High, low, short and long. By the end of the round, the hole starts to look smaller and smaller.”

Defending champion

Dustin Johnson, who won last year by three strokes, struggled the first day, shooting a three-over 75.

He started on the back nine and the trouble started on the par-five 14th. He put his second shot in the fescue and had to punch out. He missed a seven-footer for bogey for a double bogey.

He three-putted the 15th for bogey before making a 61/2-foot put on the par-three 16th. Then he missed the fairway on the 17th and made another bogey. Every other hole was a par.

“I just didn’t putt very well,” Johnson said. “I missed a lot of really good opportunities. That was the big key for me. If I don’t three-putt, I shoot even.

“But if I make one or two of the good looks I have, it’s a couple under.”

Fatherly advice

Davis Love III’s advice not only saved son Dru on the 17th. It might have saved some spectators.

Love faced a downwind shot of nearly 190 yards from the rough. His dad, a two-time Ryder Cup captain who is caddying for him this week, suggested he use a pitching wedge.

“I flew it 200 yards, all the way to the back of the green,” Love said.

“If he hadn’t been there to tell me, I would have hit an eight-iron or maybe a hard nine and soared it into the grandstands.”

Love, who shot a one-under 71, called the experience “awesome” and said of his father, “He has all the experience. He’s seen all the lies and all of the possible bounces and fliers. That’s stuff you’re not going to get if I had one of my best friends caddie for me.”

john.cherwa@latimes.com

@jcherwa

 


UPDATES:

10:15 a.m.: This article was updated with the information that the blimp was carrying signage for PenFed.

10:30 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information and a statement from the USGA.

10:45 a.m.: This article was updated with information from AirSign, the company that operates the blimp.

This article was originally published at 10 a.m.

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