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Record-setting balloonist dies after accident near Warner Springs

Julian Nott Facebook photo.jpg
Julian Richard Nott
(via Facebook)

A renowned British balloonist and scientist who set 79 world ballooning records died Tuesday at a hospital after a balloon-related accident over the weekend near Warner Springs, Calif.

Julian Richard Nott, 74, was injured Sunday in a bizarre accident several hours after his pressurized, high-altitude cabin and balloon landed east of Palomar Mountain, according to an obituary on his website and information provided by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

Nott lived in Santa Barbara.

According to the obituary, Nott’s partner of 30 years was by his side as he “passed away peacefully” Tuesday from injuries that resulted from “an extraordinary and unforeseeable accident following a successful balloon flight and landing in Warner Springs.”

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“Julian was flying an experimental balloon that he invented [and] designed to test high-altitude technology,” the obituary said.

Nott landed the balloon safely about 12:45 p.m., but about three hours later, “as he was packing up the cabin, it tumbled down the mountain with him inside,” Roberta Greene, a spokeswoman for Nott’s family, wrote in an email. “He sustained multiple head [and other] injuries.”

Sheriff’s Lt. Dustin Lopez said deputies were notified of the accident about 3:30 p.m.

According to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale — also known as the FAI or the World Air Sports Federation — Nott set a Guinness World Record in 2017, at age 72, for the highest documented tandem skydiving jump, from 31,916 feet.

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The FAI website also lists dozens of Nott’s other world records for feats of altitude, distance and time aloft.

Nott was profiled in the New York Times in 1986 during the planning of what he hoped would be the first nonstop balloon flight around the world. That attempt and several subsequent attempts failed, but they were notable because of how deadly previous attempts by other veteran pilots had been.

In 2014, Nott helped Alan Eustace break the record for the world’s highest parachute jump, from an altitude of 135,890 feet. Nott was the ballooning consultant for the world-record jump, which began nearly 7,800 feet higher than the much-hyped jump by Felix Baumgartner and Red Bull.

Lopez said deputies were twice sent Sunday afternoon to the landing site where Nott was fatally injured.

About 12:45 p.m., the deputies were alerted to a possible aircraft crash, but upon arrival learned that Nott’s experimental balloon and pressurized cabin had made a soft landing in the area and nobody was injured, Lopez said.

Deputies were again sent to the site around 3:30 p.m., this time with word that two people had suffered injuries, Lopez said. Patrol deputies and a sheriff’s helicopter responded.

Both men were airlifted away by a sheriff’s helicopter crew, then taken by a second helicopter to Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, Lopez said. There is no information on the name or condition of the second person.

Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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