UPDATED: 2 Aboard Doomed Balloon Flight Were University Coaches

Body found early Saturday as search continues at Virginia balloon festival.

From WTOP Facebook Page.
From WTOP Facebook Page.
One person remains missing and two bodies have been recovered from a hot air balloon accident Friday night in Caroline County, and news reports have identified two of those aboard the doomed flight as women's basketball coaches from the University of Richmond.

Ginny Doyle, the associate head coach of the UR women’s basketball team, and Natalie Lewis, the team’s director of basketball operations, were on passenger manifests for balloon flights on Friday, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

A spokeswoman for Lewis' family confirmed this afternoon that she was one of the three people aboard the balloon that crashed. Doyle's sister confirmed to The Washington Post that Doyle also was a passenger.

One other occupant of the air balloon is missing and feared dead, according to the Virginia State Police.

The balloon took off near 8 p.m. Friday during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival at Meadow Event Park. During its descent in the landing area near Ruther Glen Road, the balloon came in contact with a live utility line, sparking a fire.

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery store and heard people yelling, according to WWBT TV.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," the station quoted her as saying, adding she heard one person screaming, "Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help! I'm going to die! Oh my God, I'm going to die!" 

Witnesses told police the pilot attempted to regain control of the balloon and manage the fire. At one point, the two passengers reportedly jumped from the basket of the balloon, according to Virginia State Police. 

Some hot air balloons landed safely in Debra Ferguson's yard, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg reported. One of the men in the balloons pointed up at another still in the air and said he thought it might be in trouble.

"As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there," Ferguson told the newspaper. "All I heard was, 'Oh my God, Oh my God,' and all you saw was the top of the balloon still flying, but all of the basket was gone. All of the flames just disappeared. ... It was like a match -- poof -- and then it was gone."

Witnesses then heard an explosion as the fire continued to spread. Local and state law enforcement worked overnight looking for the three occupants and the wreckage of the balloon and basket, according to VSP spokesperson Corinne Geller.

She said one body was recovered about midnight another about 11 a.m. Saturday.

"The FAA also responded to the scene Friday evening. The NTSB has been notified," she said in a statement. "Searches have been conducted by air and on the ground of the rural, heavily-wooded terrain."

The remainder of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival at the Meadow has been cancelled, according to a message at the event website.

Bob May 10, 2014 at 04:22 PM
Balloons and power lines, all too common.


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