The pilot of a hot air balloon is earning high marks for safely landing next to a busy Vermont highway after the aircraft stalled mid-flight on Wednesday night, according to officials and a report.
The balloon, carrying a handful of passengers, touched down on the median of Interstate-91 as it was getting dark around 8 p.m., local authorities said, according to the Valley News.
The quick-thinking pilot, identified as Chris Ritland who runs Quechee Balloon Rides, had no other safe landing options besides the interstate, the Hartford, Vermont Fire Department reportedly said.
“(The pilot) did a good job of landing the balloon safely in the median and avoiding any issues,” the department said.
Before the hot air balloon reached the ground, motorists reported seeing it about 30 feet above the highway, the department said.
The company told the newspaper that Ritland and four passengers had a “beautiful balloon flight” that came to end “with a common landing but in an uncommon and unplanned location.”
When the winds began blowing in a different direction than what was expected at the start of the flight, Ritland couldn’t land in his anticipated spot, the company reportedly said.
“The pilot-in-command of the aircraft made a precautionary decision as sunset was nearing to land safely rather than taking unnecessary risk,” Quechee Balloon Rides said, noting workers contacted local officials about the new landing target.
The balloon remained inflated until first responders could close lanes northbound and southbound. No one was reported injured.
One passenger who spoke anonymously to the Valley News described how the scary scenario played out in the air.
“We were dropping pretty quickly and burning and burning (propane) fuel and weren’t going anywhere,” the passenger said. “The wind just wasn’t there.”
Ritland remained calm and “everything you were supposed to do, he did,” the passenger told the outlet.
“Chris did amazing in the moment,” the passenger said.