Sports Law • Risk Management

Skydivers Survive Because of Brave Risk Management of Hot Air Balloon Pilot

Earlier in the week, a 63 year old hot air balloon pilot heroically saved 5 skydivers’ lives by calmly telling them that they needed to jump immediately after he had maneuvered the balloon above a 15 acre field. Pilot Edward Ristaino must have been aware of the grave danger of the storm that had hit and exercised risk management decision making when he took action to save the skydivers and risk his own life.

Unfortunately, the balloon was sucked into the clouds, 17,000 to 18,000 feet up and crashed 8 miles from the field where the skydivers safely floated down. Ristaino died from the weather disaster—his body was discovered several days after the fateful incident.

Ristaino will always be remembered as a hero who sacrificed his own life for the skydivers in his care. He was the captain who stoically went down with his ship. Since the bad storm was not anticipated and the hot air balloon could not maneuver quickly away as a plane or helicopter could do in the same situation, the pilot seemed to have acted reasonably and bravely in his risk management choice.

Most coaches, athletic directors, race directors and managers will never experience such a risk management challenge, but can consider this story as inspiration to do everything possible to make sure that participants are kept safe at all costs.