SOUTH FARMINGDALE, N.Y. Sept. 11 -- A Gulf blimp assigned to the U.S. Tennis Open averted a soccer field where children were playing and crash landed Sunday on the lawn of a private home in a New York City suburb, slightly injuring a cameraman aboard. There was no fire or explosion. The two-member crew piloting the 197-foot airship walked away from the accident, Nassau County Police said. There were no injuries on the ground. The blimp, operated by Airship International of Orlando, Fla., with three people aboard, took off from Republic Airport in East Farmingdale, New York about 10:30 a.m. to cover the U.S. Open in New York City's Flushing Meadows, according to an airport spokesman. It crash landed about 40 minutes later. Sal Levardi, of nearby North Massapequa, N.Y. told United Press International he saw the ship 'going back and forth,' as he gestured in an up and down, wave-like motion. 'I saw the bottom of the ship was wrinkled up...the bottom of the canvas (outer shell).' The ship nose dived onto a tree-lined street, avoiding a soccer field about a block away, where children were playing, said Suzanne Pelisson, a spokeswoman for Airship at the scene. The aft section of the gray ship, blue Gulf lettering visible on its sides, stuck up above tree tops at about a 45 degree angle. 'The pilot...radioed the airport that he was experiencing pressure problems in the airship's envelope,' police said in a statement. 'While returning to the airport the problem escalated.
Just prior to the landing the crew turned off all systems in the ship to avoid a fire or explosion.' Donald Perry, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration in New York, said, 'The Gulf airship declared an emergency and made a soft landing about a mile south of Republic Airport. The pilot did not state the nature of the emergency.' The spokesman said a representative of the FAA's flight standards district office was on the scene, reporting 'substantial damage' to the craft and that the blimp's gas bag ripped. Police said the craft struck power lines before coming to rest on the lawn of an Albers Lane home. Fuel for its twin rear-mounted engines and remaining helium were offloaded at the scene. A spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington said that since there were no fatalities the FAA would do the preliminary investigation and the airship would be examined by the NTSB at Republic. The crew was identified as Hans Gunther, 30, pilot, and Russell Mills, 35, co-pilot, both of Florida. The photographer was identified only as John Trapman, 25, of California. (Additional reporting and written by William M. Reilly, edited by Philip Klint)