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(BEN HILL COUNTY, Ga.) — A missing hot air balloon pilot has been found dead in Georgia, according to the sheriff leading search efforts.

Edward Ristaino’s body was found at about 12:15 p.m. Monday, Ben Hill County Sheriff Bobby McLemore told ABC News.

“He was DOA [dead on arrival],” McLemore said. “He was in the basket.”

Authorities will not know an official cause of death until an autopsy is performed, but McLemore said he probably died from the impact.

When asked if Ristaino, 63, had a parachute or any other means of getting to safety, McLemore said, “The balloon itself acts as a parachute. It just deflated.”

He said the balloon was intact, but that Ristaino had not been able to survive the fall.

McLemore said Ristaino was about seven or eight miles east of Fitzgerald, Ga., where he was last seen. Authorities received a call from a witness Monday morning and after speaking to her, they sent a helicopter to the area.

The helicopter spotted the balloon in a “very thick wooded area,” McLemore said.

Ristaino, of Cornelius, N.C., disappeared on Friday night after his balloon was sucked into a sudden thunderstorm. He had gone up with six skydivers who all managed to get to the ground safely.  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


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