A photo taken by Barbara Baur of Silver Gold Photography showed the balloon plummeting just before it landed shortly after 4:30 p.m. in the city's Kensington neighborhood.
The pilot, H.M. Steiger, told WPVI he would have preferred to have landed somewhere else, but that this was a textbook landing.
"It's a perfect, normal, everyday balloon flight, with a normal, perfect landing in a perfect spot," said Steiger.
But exclusive video from the TV station's Chopper 6 paints a different picture, showing a bumpy landing for the pilot and his three passengers.
Onlookers sprinted to help the crew, holding onto the basket to keep the 80-foot-tall balloon from floating off the ground a second time.
Steiger said he was planning to land in the park.
"As planned as can be," said Steiger.
But police say the crew encountered strong winds during its flight, and was looking for the closest and safest place to land.
"We're concerned because it's not really that safe, because C and Westmoreland is in the city," said Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Scott Small, referring to a nearby intersection. "This was not a pre-plannned landing destination."
During flights, pilots can only steer a hot air balloon by climbing or descending into winds blowing in different directions.
Air Ventures Hot Balloon Flights told WPVI the crew had launched from Glenmore in Chester County for a training flight.
The crew snapped a picture at 17,500 feet, saying Wednesday's mission was to measure fuel consumption at different altitudes.
"It came out the sky. I'm like, 'Damn, what the hell is that?'" said witness Darrell Smith.
But the unexpected landing, dodging power lines and row homes, left residents flummoxed.
"When I saw it out of the window in my room, I'm thinking, 'Oh my God,' " said Yari Agosto.
"The good thing was there are no kids in the park where it landed," said Berkys Beez.
The FAA is investigating the incident.