The best golfers in the America and the world have gathered to compete against one another in the first round of the United States Golf Association’s (USGA) 117th US Open Championship. But the atmosphere at the Erin Hills golf course in Wisconsin suddenly took an unexpectedly grim turn.

With many of the contestants and the attending crowd watching, a blimp that had been flying over the US Open venue suddenly lost altitude and crashed just outside the boundaries of the Erin Hills course before bursting into flame. Thankfully the distance was far enough that the tournament was able to resume play, with American Rickie Fowler making an early lead.

Explosive interruption

Erin Hills, located in Wisconsin’s Washington County, was abruptly shocked by the incident in the first round of the US Open Championship the morning of Thursday, June 15. Shortly before noon, spectators noticed a blimp passing by overhead. It appeared to have lost control and began to descend rapidly to the ground. A short distance away from the course the blimp collapsed at 11:15 AM CD time and ignited, according to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

In a statement released by the USGA, they stated that the crashed blimp as not at all affiliated to the US Open Golf Championship, or with its media broadcasters.

It was revealed that the blimp belonged to the national aerial advertising company AirSign, and was just passing through Erin Hills at the time.

A later press release by the sheriff’s office stated that the blimp only had one person aboard, the pilot. They added that the air vehicle had suffered a mechanical failure leading to its crash.

The pilot had also survived by parachuting out and was taken to the hospital with serious burns and injuries. A check with the Federal Aviation Authority, however, confirmed the blimp to have been “operating lawfully at the proper altitude”.

Game goes on

Even as the investigation into the blimp crash went underway, the 2017 US Open Golf Championship proceeded with its first round, although the USGA’s tournament organizer did express the thoughts and prayers of everyone involved in the competition to be with the recovering pilot.

The first round saw a quick lead being grabbed by World number 9 Rickie Fowler, aged 28, who secured a seven-under 65 score-card.

Fowler is determined to gain his first major world title at the US Open Championship and finished the first round well ahead of defending champion and World number 1 Dustin Johnson from the UK, who registered a three-over 75 that same day. His struggling performance could be attributed to injuries suffered last April when he fell down the stairs of his rental home, leading to his missing the Augusta Masters tournament.