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Donte' Stallworth recalls terrifying balloon crash

Posted by Shalise Manza Young, Globe Staff  April 4, 2013 10:15 AM

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Free agent receiver Donte' Stallworth, who played one game for the Patriots last season, was in a hot-air balloon accident on March 16, and initially it wasn't known just how badly the 32-year old was injured in the crash near Miami.

Stallworth discussed the accident for the first time with sports publicist and friend Rebekah Howard, and Howard's story with Stallworth was posted on FOXSports.com early Thursday morning.

Stallworth had planned the balloon trip as a birthday gift for a friend, Soleil Guerrero, who had an excursion in a hot air balloon on her "bucket list."

While it was clear and warm that morning, Stallworth recalled, it was windy and takeoff was delayed and he, Guerrero and the balloon pilot moved to another takeoff location.

Toward the tail end of the two-hour trip, the pilot radioed to his landing crew that he wouldn't be able to make it to the original landing spot and selected a different location, an open field in Homestead, and told his crew to gather there and get ready.

It wasn't long until the three saw power lines, and the pilot told Stallworth to throw the anchor over the basket on his command, which he intended to give after the balloon cleared the power lines.

But they didn't clear the power lines.

Stallworth told Howard that the next thing he remembered was feeling strong, jarring, painful currents of electricity coursing through his body.

He said he felt death approaching - "In that moment, I thought my eyes would close and I'd never wake up again," Stallworth said.

He "felt intense burning on his arm, lower back and buttocks." Both he and Guerrero were on fire; Stallworth said seeing his friend like that "was the most frightening part of the whole ordeal."

When Wes Welker and his wife Anna came to Miami to visit Stallworth a few days later, Stallworth told his friend to "imagine the hardest hit you've ever taken and multiply that by 1,000" when trying to explain the pain he'd felt.

When the basket hit the ground, the balloon was still entangled in the wires, and Stallworth became aware of what was going on. He tried to get Guerrero to her feet, but she couldn't feel her legs, though that was temporary. Stallworth held her up and kept her calm, not wanting her to look down at her injuries.

It took 10 to 12 minutes for paramedics to arrive; the two were airlifted to a hospital trauma center (the pilot was not injured). At one point Stallworth began laughing at the scene, telling paramedics that in 10 years playing in the NFL he'd never been carted off the field but "after a couple hours in a hot air balloon, I'm getting airlifted off a farm."

Both Stallworth and Guerrero suffered severe burns, though not life- or career-threatening for either. Stallworth's injuries were mostly on his backside.

Guerrero left the hospital only last week is undergoing physical therapy. Stallworth is expected to resume workouts within a month with the aim of playing again in the coming season.

Released out of training camp last year, Stallworth returned to the Patriots in December and played just one game, against Houston. He had a 63-yard touchdown catch but suffered an ankle injury at the end of the catch and had to be placed on injured reserve.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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