Four people parachuted from a hot air balloon drifting high above west Santa Rosa early Tuesday, triggering an investigation by CHP officers who spotted the quartet floating to earth.
The jumpers apparently violated Federal Aviation Administration safety regulations, CHP Officer Jon Sloat said.
"You can parachute out of a balloon if you have proper equipment, a backup chute and a sanctioned landing area," said Sloat. "They had a single chute and (at least one person) landed about 100 feet north of Highway 12 on private property."
Base jumping from balloon is a recreational hobby generating no end of online videos. More commonly, base jumpers leap from fixed areas, such as high cliffs, wearing trimmed-down parachutes.
At about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, two officers were at Highway 12 and Fulton Road investigating a theft from a Caltrans property. One of the officers looked up and caught the unexpected sight of a parachute in the sky.
"He was wondering where that came from when he sees a hot air balloon way up," Sloat said. "Then he sees a second person jump out of the balloon and then a third and a fourth."
The base jumpers landed on private properties scattered in the semi-rural area.
One jumper, Jonathan Entin, 46, of Bend, Ore., landed near Merced Avenue not far from the highway and was questioned by CHP officers. The other three landed in a field and ran.
"Witnesses saw the other three hightailing it out of the area," Sloat said.
Base jumping chutes are smaller than typical parachutes. A jumper can hit the ground, pack up and leave quickly.
Officers didn't pursue the balloon, which drifted west toward Sebastopol where it disappeared into the fog.
Entin told the officers he didn't know the name of the balloon company, Sloat said.
Officers are investigating any FAA violations and misdemeanor crimes involving safety. They're also hoping to learn the name of the balloon company.