An Australian pilot died saving his passengers as the Goodyear blimp he was flying burst into flames and crashed.
Michael Nerandzic, 53 manouevred the beleaguered craft to within two metres from the ground allowing all three passengers to jump clear at an aerodrome near Friedberg, Germany on Sunday.
The passengers exit from the craft caused the helium-filled blimp to shoot into the air again where it burst into flames killing the pilot before crashing nearby.
Photographer Joachim Storch said he heard the pilot shout “We had an accident…I crashed the airship” before he and two other passengers leapt from a window.
He said The Spirit of Safety missed its designated landing spot at Reichelsheim airfield causing its engine to slam into the ground.
Nerandzic’s wife Lyndy said from the couple’s home in Wollongong, NSW that her husband would have known his fate as the passengers jumped from the ship.
“He would have known … that he didn’t have a chance,” she told the Seven Network.
She also said she wasn’t surprised her husband sacrificed his life to save his passengers.
“When there was trouble on the airship he brought it down to as low as he could to let the passengers jump out and he stayed at the controls,” she said.
“As soon as they jumped out of course, being an airship, he knew it would rise up and it did.”
“They found him still at the controls when it crashed,” she said.
Nerandzic’s friend Steve Donoghue said his friend had flown at five Olympic Games during his 26-year career piloting airships.
“Michael lived and breathed airships,” he said.
“He’s one of the best and I had the the privilege of flying with Mike in the blimp … in safe hands.”
The cause of the crash was not known but is under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation.