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Skydivers: Hot-air balloon pilot saved their lives

Skydivers say hot-air balloon pilot put their safety first before perishing in deadly storm By The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) ' As the hot-air balloon rose into the Georgia sky, skydiver Dennis Valdez remembers seeing a thunderstorm brewing in the distance. North Carolina-based pilot Edward Ristaino seemed concerned but not panicked as he maneuvered the balloon above a field and told the five skydivers to jump.

It wasn't until Valdez was in midair that he realized how dangerous the weather had become. He looked up and saw Ristaino's balloon rising into a storm cloud.

As the storm hit Friday evening, the skydivers floated safely to the ground. Ristaino's balloon, meanwhile, was sucked into the clouds and then sent crashing to the earth. His body was found at the bottom of his gondola Monday.

The skydivers said this week that they didn't realize the situation had become so dangerous but credited Ristaino with saving them.

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