Updated March 19, 2012 at 1:58 p.m.
By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
A Cornelius balloonist lost after an accident in southern Georgia did not survive a 17,000-foot plunge to the ground after the hot air balloon he was piloting got caught in a thunderstorm Friday night.
Sheriff Bobby McLemore told CorneliusNews.net Monday afternoon that Edward Ristaino “didn’t make it.” He was found at 12:50 p.m. in a heavily wooded area, he said.
Mr. Ristaino, 63, the owner of Lake Norman Balloon Company, was piloting the balloon for skydivers who were set to perform at a festival in Fitzgerald, Ga. when a thunderstorm hit around 7 p.m. Mr. Ristaino told the skydivers to jump to safety before his balloon was swept into the storm.
After more than two full days of searching, police caught a break when they spoke with a witness who said she saw something that might have been the balloon fall from the sky Friday. She was able to direct police and searchers to the general area, in the southeastern part of the search area, where helicopters located him.
One hundred and five searchers on seven teams, including seven aircrafts, spent the weekend looking for Mr. Ristaino. His wife and brother were in Georgia Monday when he was found.
Associated Press, March 19, 2012: “Sheriff: Missing balloon pilot’s body found in Ga.” (Via Google News)