Commuters along one of Vermont’s busiest highways got an unexpected scare last night when a hot air balloon suddenly lost altitude and was forced to make an emergency landing directly onto the busy interstate.
According to officials, veteran pilot Chris Ritland and four passengers had been enjoying a leisurely sunset balloon ride over Hartford on Wednesday evening. But without warning, their picturesque journey took a terrifying turn as the balloon began losing height at an alarming rate.
With darkness falling and no other safe landing options, Ritland was left with no choice but to attempt putting the faltering aircraft down on Interstate 91, a major commuter route through the area. Dashcam footage captured the tense moments as the balloon lowered toward the highway median, narrowly avoiding collisions with speeding cars.
Witnesses described scenes of chaos as emergency vehicles rushed to the area with lights and sirens wailing. Despite the perilous situation, Ritland, a balloon operator with over 3 decades of experience, maintained composure to steer the failing balloon to a bumpy but successful emergency landing without injury.
An investigation is ongoing into what factors caused the sudden mechanical failure thousands of feet in the air. Aviation experts are puzzled how the pilot managed to wrestle control of the plummeting basket in strong wind conditions during dusk. Police are also analyzing dashcam videos that captured the dramatic descent and heart-stopping highway touchdown.
With his quick thinking and mastery of balloon piloting, Ritland undoubtedly saved not only the lives of his passengers but also prevented a catastrophic accident on one of Vermont’s busiest roadways. Local residents are praising his heroism and exemplary handling of an aviation emergency that could have easily ended in tragedy.