Blimp pilot dies saving passengers from fiery crash
A Goodyear blimp plunges to the ground after catching fire over Germany on Sunday.
June 14th, 2011
07:54 AM ET

Blimp pilot dies saving passengers from fiery crash

An Australian blimp pilot killed in a crash of his airship was being hailed as a hero Tuesday for saving the lives of three other people aboard the doomed craft.

Michael Nerandzic was trying to land a Goodyear blimp at an airfield in Reichelsheim, Germany, when his passengers, three journalists, smelled fuel and heard a loud noise from an engine, according to news reports, including one in the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia.

Realizing the ship was in danger, Nerandzic lowered it to just two meters (6.5 feet) off the ground and told the journalists to jump, according to the news reports. Harrowing photos as blimp catches fire, crashes

With the loss of ballast from the three passengers, the blimp shot up to 50 meters (165 feet) in the air, caught fire and then crashed.

Nerandzic's wife, Lyndy, told Australia's ABC Sydney that her husband sacrificed himself 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," ABC quoted Lyndy Nerandzic as saying. "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. He also steered it away from his ground crew."

"When they told me what he had done for the passengers, it didn't surprise me one little bit," she told the Illawarra Mercury. "He was a character. He was larger than life. He was so, so generous."

When the crash occurred, the airship was returning from a trip taking the journalists - a photographer from the Bild newspaper and two from the RTL TV network - to get aerial shots of a local festival, Spiegel Online reported.

The owners of the blimp, the Lightship Group, said in an "in memoriam" announcement on their website that Nerandzic, 53, was "one of the world's most experience airship pilots," with 18,000 hours of experience piloting airships over 26 years.

"Our thoughts at this time go to his wife and family, his colleagues past and present and many friends worldwide," the company's statement said.

The Lightship Group describes itself as the world's largest airship operator, with clients including Goodyear, Met Life, General Motors, DirecTV and Sanyo.

Post by:
Filed under: Australia • Aviation • Germany • World
soundoff (405 Responses)
  1. Baranga the Great

    Incredible heroism. This man exemplifies what a true pilot is and as a man who is training to be a pilot and dreams to be a pilot as his career, I apparently have a lot to live up to. I hope his final moments were those of clarity and grace. Rest in peace my brother.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  2. JS

    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  3. anna

    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends – John 15:13

    June 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Anonymous

    This is what a true hero is. They don't make them anymore like Mr. Nerandzic anymore. God bless you and rest your soul.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Randall in Torrance, CA

    That pilot had more guts than most people I know. Jesus said, "No greater love has any man than to lay down his life for a friend."

    June 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. mizh

    What a shame. So sorry it ended like that, but at least the report didn't say "four people died". What a loss for his family; they must be terribly proud of Mr. Nerandzic. I hope he rests in peace...

    June 14, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Josh

    Oh, the humanity ! ! !

    June 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Keyboard Cowboy


    June 14, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ccaze

    it wasn't a good year for him.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Greezy

    Reminds me of the airshow pilots who chose not to eject so so they can steer away from the crowd and nearby houses to crash into an empty field. In a situation where most of our brains would go into self-survival mode and get stuck there, people like Nerandzic can rapidly evaluate and recognize their low-probability of survival, and that while they cannot protect themselves there is still time to protect others right until the end.

    For anyone saying or thinking that he planned to bail out himself after doing his passengers-first duty, such an experienced pilot would have played out this exact scenario a hundred times in his mind, he knew what the sudden loss of passenger ballast would cause, and he knew you cant just leave a burning blimp to get blown around and crash on someone else. Had he bailed out as well it would be a further loss of ballast, prolonging the blimps descent and lateral drift and putting a larger area in danger. Perhaps he hoped a rapid deflation would reground the craft quickly and gently enough for him to escape the fire, but he knew how unlikely that was, and he was going to stay at those controls until that blimp was back on the ground either way, and he did.

    The word hero may be diluted at times, this is not one of those times.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robb

      Thank you Greezy. Well written. My condolences to the family of Michael Nerandzic.

      June 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. G

    Heroic pilot is heroic. This deserves to be a front page story.

    June 14, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • B

      This story deserves to be more front-page than Weiner's weiner, that's for sure. Why not give us some morally centered front page news for once, CNN?

      June 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • dex

      totally agree with G & B

      June 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jules

      I agree. What a tragedy.

      June 14, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John R

    Lots of keyboard warriors here....tsk tsk such an act of bravery, you're of of a kind Michael!

    June 14, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Chris

    Why didn't they all jump at the same time?

    June 14, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lanoom

      No telling where the blimp would've landed if he wasn't controlling it.

      June 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zeppelin

      The pilot sacrificed himself to ensure his ground crew and others on the ground were not injured.

      June 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Baranga the Great

    awwwww, who's a bitter loser, who's my big bitter loser, yes you are, yeeesssss you are

    June 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dennis K

    Really? You want all of the GOP candidates dead? Is that because PCO has done such a good job? I'll remember that the next time I pump $3.75 gas.

    June 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16