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Crews search for missing NC hot air balloon pilot

FITZGERALD, GA (AP) — Authorities are considering weather patterns and wind direction as they search south Georgia woods for a hot air balloon pilot who’s missing after his balloon was sucked into the updraft of a thunderstorm that sent it plummeting to the ground.

The Ben Hill County sheriff says 63-year-old Edward Ristaino of Cornelius, NC, was ferrying five skydivers Friday night during a festival in Fitzgerald when the storm struck. Two of the skydivers say the pilot kept them safe by spotting a field where they could parachute and telling them to jump as the storm approached.

The sheriff says about 50 to 75 people are searching 12 to 15 square miles of terrain. Authorities are using radar images of the storm to help them determine where the winds could have pushed the balloon.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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