The pleasure-seekers were all set to enjoy a helicopter flight at a fair in the village of Gelsdorf near Bonn, western Germany on Sunday.
But their Eurocopter AS 350 had only ascended a few metres when witnesses reported seeing a flame coming out of the engine, according to the local General Anzeiger newspaper.
"A technical defect," diagnosed astute rescue worker Erich Krupp later.
The 62-year-old pilot, who had already flown several flights that morning, managed to steer away from a building and the main fairground, where several hundred people were gathered.
But he failed to clear a fence, and the helicopter tipped headfirst down an embankment.
"If he'd made it 20 metres further to the field on the other side, everything would've been fine," an employee of the helicopter company said.
A quick-thinking worker put the burning engine out with a fire extinguisher, while the fair's first aid medics took care of the passengers, who were all able to climb out of the wreckage suffering from little more than shock.
But the pilot was seriously injured and was flown with a rescue helicopter to a hospital in Cologne.
Officials from the Federal Aviation Office (LBA) inspected the site in the afternoon and began an investigation into the cause of the crash.
"Since the helicopter crash remained practically unnoticed by visitors to the spring fair, the event continued as planned," the local paper noted.