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Pilot Falls from Blimp and Dies, Craft Floats at Wind’s Whim

February 27, 1995

HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) _ A pilot fell about 200 feet from his blimp to his death as his wife watched from the ground Sunday, leaving the 90-foot craft floating at the whim of the winds for about two hours before it was finally forced down.

The pilot, 37-year-old Keith Hirsch of San Jose, was attempting to land at the Hayward Air Terminal, 20 miles southeast of San Francisco, when the blimp began to rise again, Fred O’Donnell of the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Hirsch gripped a bar on the craft’s cage, then fell to the concrete runway from about 200 feet up, O’Donnell said.

David Schuck told KCBS Radio he saw the man fall.

``He couldn’t hold on any more after trying to get back in for so long,″ Schuck said. ``He just kind of gave way.″

The aircraft floated up to about 10,000 feet and drifted at the whim of the winds. A National Park Service helicopter monitored it and air traffic was diverted around it until the copter was able to direct the breeze from its rotors to force it to the ground in nearby Orinda.

Hirsch was giving a member of his ground crew piloting lessons when the blimp lost power, floated down and bounced through the grass, Hayward spokeswoman Gail Lundholm said.

Hirsch and crew member Tjader Joseph Aton of San Leandro jumped out to hold the craft down, but Aton lost his grip and it began to float up. Hirsch held on and tried to climb back into the cage as the blimp swept him the air while his wife watched, Lundholm said.

FAA investigators were due to arrive at the blimp’s landing site Monday morning.