Veteran hot air balloon pilot says emergency water landing near Disney World kept passengers safe

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A hot air balloon landed in a retention pond Monday morning along State Road 429 near Walt Disney World in Orange County, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Seven people were aboard the balloon when the pilot made an emergency landing shortly before 8 a.m. near Flamingo Crossings Boulevard and Flagler Avenue, Sgt. Kim Montes said.

The balloon is owned by Orlando Balloon Rides, which is based in Davenport, Montes said.

The pilot told investigators that shifting winds prevented him from landing on a strip adjacent to the pond, troopers said.

Watch video of the landing from the passenger's point-of-view below:

"All of the occupants got out of the balloon and have been transported back to their destination," Montes said.

The pilot tried to land in a field near Florida's Turnpike, but he was unable to, troopers said.

Passenger Sebastian Westerby said he took his girlfriend on the ride for one last excursion before they return to Denmark.

"It was adrenaline. It was pumping. It was scary," he said. "Now we're kind of making fun of it, but it was serious. It was lucky that no one got hurt."

See the deflated hot air balloon from Skywitness 9 below:

The basket tilted into the pond, causing it to fill with water. A crew spent about an hour removing the hot air balloon from the pond, which contained multiple alligators.

No one was injured and that was in large part due to the pilot's actions, veteran hot air balloon pilot Joe Kittinger said.

"When you're in a situation like that, when the wind changes and you've got to pick any place you can find to make a safe landing, and the key thing is to not get anybody hurt, and that's what he did," Kittinger said.

Kittinger, who has thousands of hours experience piloting hot air balloons and held the world record for highest altitude parachute jump for 52 years, has been in similar situations.

He has raced around the world in a hot air balloon and while there were many times his flights went smoothly.

"I've also had times when the winds changed and I had to make a deviation and land wherever I could land," Kittinger said.

Looking at cellphone video of Monday's water landing, Kittinger said the pilot chose a good spot to put the balloon down.

"Water is a good place to land because it slows you down," he said, adding, "apparently there was an alligator in that water. I imagine that got the people's attention."