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Ga. Authorities Search For Missing Hot Air Balloon Pilot

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File photo of a hot air balloon in flight. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

File photo of a hot air balloon in flight. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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FITZGERALD, Ga. (AP) — Authorities are searching for a hot air balloon pilot from North Carolina who went missing in the South Georgia woods when his balloon crashed during a thunderstorm.

Ben Hill County Sheriff Bobby McLemore says 63-year-old Edward Ristaino of Cornelius, N.C., was taking six skydivers into the air Friday during a festival in Fitzgerald, Ga., when a storm hit. The sheriff said strong winds force the balloon up to about 18,000 feet before it plummeted to the ground.

Authorities have not found the balloon. Ristaino had brief radio contact with authorities but has not been heard from since.

The skydivers, who Ristaino told to jump from the balloon before it crashed, were not injured. Erin Daly, whose brother was one of the skydivers, called Ristaino a hero who saved six lives.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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