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Balloon pilot saves parachutists

A hot air balloon pilot ordered five skydiver passengers to jump out after they were hit by a huge thunderstorm.

All landed safely, but veteran pilot Edward Ristaino, 63, is missing presumed dead after his balloon was sucked up to 18,000ft then collapsed in a downdraught.

"He saved our lives," one of the jumpers Jessica Wesnofske, said. "Another minute, we would have been in the storm with him."

Mr Ristaino was taking the skydivers into the air on Friday during a festival in Georgia when the storm hit.

Sheriff Bobby McLemore said search teams had not found the balloon. Mr Ristaino, who had nearly 20 years experience flying hot air balloons, had brief radio contact with authorities.

"He told them he was in trouble," the sheriff said. "He didn't think he was going to make it."

He said the pilot was reading off his altitude readings as he fell, in an apparent effort to assist any search.

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From Belfast Telegraph