EAST PIKELAND — Police identified the pilot who was killed while landing a hot air balloon Sunday.
Jeffrey Hooten, 47, of Albuquerqe, N.M., died Sunday after he fell out of the basket during landing operations in a field near the intersection of Hunsberger Road and South Wall Street, according to a release from the East Pikeland Police.
Police said ten people were in the basket in addition to Hooten.
One of those people was Jay Bertin, of New York.
He said everything went well through the trip and described Hooten as being “a very jovial guy.”
Eventually, they began looking for a space to land, Bertin said.
“[Hooten] announced to take our places and hold on to our rope handles,” Bertin said in an email to 21st Century Media.
A bit of a rough landing followed, according to Bertin.
“We landed with many bounces as the brown-looking field was just planted. We felt each slight gully and mound as we braced,” Bertin said. “Some of us watched the pilot, others braced. I did not see what happened but others saw the pilot reach for a cord to let any excess gas out of the balloon and to close [the] base of the balloon so air wouldn’t fill it as we landed.”
As Hooten reached for the cord, Bertin said three people inside the basket saw him fall out.
“The balloon was in the process of landing and the pilot reached out of the balloon basket to pull on a rope that deflates the balloon,” the police release said. “When he did, he fell from the balloon and got caught between the balloon basket and the ground.”
“We were down and one of the passengers pulled the cord that the pilot was supposed to,” Bertin said. “There was some immediate fear that the balloon could rise or continue to drag as we all continued to climb and jump out of the basket which was not moving.”
When police arrived, “people were performing CPR” on Hooten, but he died at Phoenixville Hospital, the police release said.
A resident in the area, Scott Haslip, said he saw the landing and everything appeared to go smoothly from his vantage point. He was only alerted to something being wrong when two women rushed to his house from the balloon.
Those in the basket eventually gathered at his home.
The riders were largely from New York but some occupants were also from Ukraine, Bertin said.
In addition to the East Pikeland Police, the Spring City and state police also responded to the scene. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also investigated.
Stan Hess, of the U.S. Hot Air Balloon team, based out of Warwick, Chester County, which Hooten operated under, said Sunday that the FAA found no problems with the operation.
Initially, Haslip said he heard that the pilot was making an emergency landing due to a potential medical emergency, but police said they hadn’t heard that.
Riders in the balloon also said they believe Hooten could have had a medical emergency which may have contributed to his death, but they were uncertain.
An autopsy which would determine what happened was not yet performed Monday by the Chester County Coronor’s Office.
This story was updated with additional information.