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Balloon pilot is injured falling hard in city yard Pennsylvania man fractures vertebra in Preakness event.


A pilot flying in the weather-delayed Preakness Week annual hot-air balloon race was injured yesterday when his craft hit a tree and landed in the back yard of a Northeast Baltimore home.

Rich Schroeder, of Lancaster, Pa., suffered a fractured vertebra. He was treated at Good Samaritan Hospital and later transferred to Lancaster General Hospital, where he was listed in satisfactory condition last night. His wife, Sharon, said he is scheduled to be released tomorrow . "He should be OK," she said. A passenger was uninjured.

The accident was the only damper for the race, which had been postponed Saturday because of poor weather conditions.

Taking off from Oregon Ridge Park shortly before 7 a.m., 33 balloons took part in the "race" -- a hare-and-hounds event in which the pilots pursue a leader balloon, trying to navigate with ,, wind currents and drop a marker closest to its landing site.

For the first time, a female pilot was the winner: Eva Brown of Richmond, Va., skimmed the target area, a 300-foot radius, just feet above ground, enabling her to drop her marker within inches of the landing spot near Loch Raven Reservoir.

Her victory was worth $2,500, a bottle of champagne and a pewter bowl. Meghan Heltshe, of Lancaster, won $1,500 for finishing second, while Michael Kirk of Louisville, Ky., won $1,000 for third place.

Mr. Schroeder's balloon came down at a home in the 4000 block of Pinewood Ave. about 8:30 a.m. Grace Norwood, 75, was vacuuming the living room. "I looked out and there it was," she said. "I left everything and grabbed my camera and took pictures."

Dan Sherrill, race coordinator, said Mr. Schroeder had to land hard and fast because of the small space.

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