Photographer Joachim Storch told media that the blimp — The Spirit of Safety — missed its designated landing spot at Reichelsheim airfield in central Germany on Sunday evening, causing its engine to slam into the ground.
The pilot yelled "We had an accident!" followed by "I crashed the airship!" as the smell of fire crept through the blimp, Storch told the DAPD news agency on Monday.
Storch and two other passengers, a man and woman from a TV crew, leapt 7 feet (2 meters) to safety.
The sudden loss of weight caused the ship to shoot into the air, where it burst into flames, killing the pilot who remained in the cabin.
Germany's aviation investigator said Tuesday it will need weeks to complete an investigation into the cause of the crash.
"We are conducting interviews with witnesses, gathering evidence from the site and analyzing images of the accident," said Klaus Himmler, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation. "We are conducting a widespread investigation."
The bureau's findings are not expected to be reported for another four to eight weeks, he added.
Goodyear, which had commissioned the blimp as part of a road safety advertising campaign, said in a statement Tuesday that it was halting the initiative and would leave its second airship in Europe grounded.
"Our thoughts and sympathies are with the family and relatives of the pilot," the company said in a statement.
The United States tire company said it has used blimps for more than 85 years and never previously experienced any fatalities.