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Video captures fatal, fiery hot air balloon crash
First Published May 11 2014 10:35 am • Last Updated May 11 2014 01:54 pm

Doswell, Va. • Virginia state police say they have found the body of the third passenger of a hot air balloon that drifted into a power line, burst into flames and fell into a heavily wooded area about 25 miles north of Richmond.

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the searchers found the body at 11 a.m. Sunday. The two other passengers had previously been found.

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Police have not released the victims’ names, but family members and the University of Richmond said associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis were passengers. Veteran hot air balloon pilot Daniel T. Kirk was at the controls.

"Words cannot begin to express our sorrow," Keith Gill, the school’s athletic director, said in a statement about the deaths. "We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones."

The balloon was registered to Daniel Kirk at an address in the Dover, Delaware, area. His company’s website said he had been a hot air balloon pilot for more than 20 years and had a commercial balloon pilot license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Lewis just completed her second year as director of basketball operations for the women’s team, according to a profile on the university’s website. The Buffalo, New York, native was a four-year letter winner and two-time captain of the Spiders’ swim team.

Lewis was "an amazing person and a strong person, an athlete engaged to be married," according to family spokeswoman Julie Snyder.

Doyle, who graduated from Richmond in 1992 after a standout basketball career, served on the team staff for 16 years after that — including nine winning seasons. She earned all-conference honors twice as a player.

"As alumnae, classmates, and colleagues — and as invaluable and devoted mentors for our student-athletes — Ginny and Natalie have been beloved members of our community," university president Edward L. Ayers said.

The university canceled two weekend baseball games and held a moment of silence at commencement Saturday for its law school.


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Amber Battle, who will be a senior next season, said from her home in Apex, North Carolina that her coach, Michael Shafer, was keeping the team updated via text messages.

He told them that he was also at the balloon festival.

"I just can’t believe this happened," she said.

Witnesses to the crash described a harrowing sight on the special preview night for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, which was set to open Saturday. The festival was canceled. About 740 people attended the preview event.

On the ground, "It was complete silence," spectator Nancy Johnson said. "There were people praying. It was horrible."

The balloon was among 13 that lifted off Friday night from Meadow Event Park, home to the State Fair of Virginia, and was approaching a landing site nearby. Two of the balloons landed safely before the third hit the live power line, according to police.

The pilot attempted to retain control of the balloon and snuff the fire and two passengers either jumped or fell from the gondola, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.

"Then witnesses recall hearing an explosion and the fire continued to spread," Geller said.

She said another pilot interviewed by investigators described how the pilot tried to open vents to release extra-hot air in an attempt to keep the balloon from rising faster.

"Based on witness accounts, he did everything he could to try to save the passengers’ lives," Geller said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash.

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