He really was a balloonist (See Below)
New York Times Article
"SANTOS-DUMONT'S ESCAPE; His Balloon Burst, but He Got Off Without a Scratch August 9, 1901, Wednesday
PARIS, Aug. 9. -- M. Santos-Dumont, the aeronaut, had a narrow escape from death yesterday morning. His balloon burst and fell with tremendous speed. Had it not been that the framework caught in the coping of a building, the plucky Franco-Brazilian would almost certainly have been killed. As it was he was unhurt."