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28-Year-Old Employee of Hot Air Balloon Company Dies After Falling from Basket onto Moving Car

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hot air balloon
hot air balloon

Getty A hot air balloon

A 28-year-old hot air balloon employee has died after officials said he fell over 100-feet from the aircraft onto a moving car in Israel.

The fatal incident unfolded on Tuesday morning near Balfouria and involved a hot air balloon belonging to the Lagaat Bashamayim balloon company, according to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

A preliminary investigation by the Israeli Police Department determined that the man — identified as Lagaat Bashamayim employee Yogev Cohen — was stabilizing the balloon before takeoff when it suddenly began to rise, per the outlet.

Under company regulations, hot air balloons must be stabilized by three ground crew members before they can be properly inflated, the newspaper reported.

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For unknown reasons, Cohen, of Kibbutz Yizre'el, did not let go of the balloon when it started to lift him into the air and he continued to hang on as it lifted him higher over moving traffic, Haaretz reported.

He ultimately hung on for as long as he could until he fell more than one hundred feet down to a car beneath him, according to the outlet. Both the car and hot air balloon's passengers were unharmed during the incident.

Almog Amir, the owner of Lagaat Bashamayim, told Haaretz that he still doesn't know what happened or why Cohen refused to let go.

"I've been flying hot air balloons for 20 years, and so far, I haven't been able to understand why he did this," Amir explained. "He hung onto the lower portion of the basket. By the time the pilot noticed this, he was already at a height of 10 or 15 meters."

"Then they yelled to him from below 'Jump, jump,' while he was still near the ground. He said something like 'No, I'm hanging in there,' and then the pilot decided to get lower. But there were power lines and he couldn't do so," Amir continued. "He tried to land after crossing the road, but the wind brought him back. And at some point, Yogev could no longer hold on and fell onto the road from a height of 40 or 50 meters [131-164 feet]."

"We're all in shock here," Amir added. "He was a great guy."

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Asher Amar said he was headed to work on Tuesday when he spotted Cohen in the air and snapped photos, assuming it was a stunt, according to The Times of Israel.

"I saw the guy, but I thought it was part of the attraction — that he was doing tricks," Amar said, per the Times. "Only when I got to work did I understand that he was killed and I filmed his last moments. It's painful ... It really makes me shudder."

Shari Vermont also witnessed the shocking encounter, noting that she was on board the hot air balloon when Cohen fell, the Times reported.

"Near me was a couple with their son, and the adult tried to pull the rope to save him, but he didn't succeed," she said, per the Times. "The balloon was blown in the direction of the highway. I understand that he didn't want to bring the balloon down on the road so as not to strike the cars. At a certain point, he tried to maneuver himself and land but before that, he fell. I was in shock."

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In the wake of the incident, Cohen's body was sent to the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir for an autopsy, according to Haaretz.

Police also opened an investigation into the matter, ABC News and Haaretz reported. It has since been taken over by the Civil Aviation Authority and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, per Haaretz.

At this time, the ministry has not issued a closure order against Lagaat Bashamayim, whose contact could not be found by PEOPLE.

"We're focusing mainly on [how] to prevent the next accident," Gadi Regev, the Transportation Ministry's chief air safety investigator told Haaretz. "Whether they deviated from the regulations, what the pilot's checklist was, where they took off from and so forth."

"We aren't looking for people to blame, but for the causes of the disaster, in order to prevent the next accident," Regev added.

A spokesperson with the Israeli Police Department did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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