UPDATE: University says staff members were in hot air ballon that crashed

By: Associated Press Email
By: Associated Press Email
A second body has been recovered in the fiery crash of a hot air balloon in Virginia.

Credit: Jim Cox - @jbjbjr/Twitter

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DOSWELL, VA. -- Two staff members of the University of Richmond women's basketball team Searchers were on board a hot air balloon that crashed into a power line, setting it ablaze, school officials said today.

According to the school statement, associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis were in the balloon.

Doyle, 44, was a former Richmond player who had been a member of the coaching staff for 16 seasons.

Lewis graduated from Richmond in 2011 and was in her third year as director of basketball operations.

The school statement release this evening said the university was extending "prayers and thoughts to the families of two members of the women's basketball staff who were aboard a balloon that crashed May 9 in Caroline County, Va."

"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," President Edward L. Ayers said in the statement. "Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many."

The remains of two people who were in the balloon when it caught fire Friday night have been found, but haven't been identified, officials said today. The remains were found in a heavily wooded area, one late Friday and the other mid-morning today. The remains were about 4,500 feet -- less than a mile -- apart.

One person remained missing Saturday evening.

The crash happened during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival shortly before 8 p.m. Friday at Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Va. The balloon and two others were about to land when one hit a power line, said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Gellar.

No wreckage has been found as authorities concentrated their search in nearby Bagdad, Va., but a debris field has been located. More than 100 people were involved in the recovery effort today.

Witnesses told Virginia State Police that the pilot tried to regain control of the balloon and that its two passengers jumped or fell out of the gondola, Gellar said. The witnesses recalled hearing an explosion and seeing the gondola separate from the balloon.

Megan Pattie and Derick Childers joined friends at a nearby field to watch the festival when they saw the balloon hit the power line.

"It was pretty horrifying," Pattie said.

"We saw two passengers inside it and it kept going and got higher and higher and there was nothing we could do with them," Childers said.

Amanda Patterson told ABC News that the mood at the event changed instantly after the crash.

"All the balloons were taking off when we got here. It was a great relaxed atmosphere. Everyone was having fun and you could just feel the mood change very quickly very fast right when we saw the EMS people reacting," Paterson said. "There was just like a tidal wave almost once everyone saw what was going on."

Geller said 13 hot air balloons were involved in the event and the other 12 balloons all landed safely.

Virginia State Police, Caroline County Sheriff's Office, Caroline County Fire and Rescue and Henrico County Police are involved in the search. The Federal Aviation Administration was assisting and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate.

The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival has since been cancelled.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families of this tragic accident," Meadow Event Park officials said in a statement. "The Meadow Event Park staff is devastated. It's a shocking situation for everyone."

ESPN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Previous Story:

A second body has been recovered in the fiery crash of a hot air balloon in Virginia.

Virginia State Police said the body was found Saturday as more than 100 searchers continued to hunt for a third victim. None of the victims has been identified.

The balloon drifted into a power line Friday night, burst into flames and crashed. The balloon and the basket holding the pilot also have yet to be located.

The crash occurred ahead of a weekend balloon fest in Doswell, about 25 miles north of Richmond.

Previous story:

The body of one occupant of a hot air balloon that caught fire and crashed has been recovered and police searched Saturday for two others feared dead, Virginia State Police said.

The three were in a balloon Friday night that witnesses said crashed amid screams for help from the balloon.

The body was found in a heavily wooded area shortly before midnight, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said Saturday. The balloon and gondola carrying the pilot and two passengers have not been found, she said.

Because of the time elapsed since the crash about 8 p.m. Friday, the search for two other occupants has shifted from a rescue operation to a mission to recover the remains, Geller said. More searchers were called in Saturday.

Police received eyewitness reports that two occupants either fell or jumped from the burning balloon after it struck the power line.

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," she said. "`Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,"' Hager-Bradley said she heard one person screaming.

The crash occurred near the Meadow Event Park in rural Caroline County, where the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival was being held. The area is about 25 miles north of Richmond.

Another eyewitness, Nancy Johnson, said the crash occurred in an instant.

"One minute the balloons were hovering in field behind Event Park, the next everyone is pointing at sky," she wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "The crowd went silent in shock. Very sad night."

Donnell Ferguson said he was cutting grass when he saw a couple balloons passing by. One was low, barely at tree-top level.

"At first I saw a cloud of black smoke and then I noticed the basket on fire," he said Saturday. "Then it just took off real fast and disappeared."

The festival was scheduled to begin officially on Saturday, but was holding a special kickoff event Friday for about 740 people. Organizers canceled the rest of the festival.

Twenty balloonists from the Mid-Atlantic region were to participate in the weekend festival, said Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the venue, which also is the site of the State Fair of Virginia.

"It's just a shocking situation for everyone," Hicks said.

Some hot air balloons landed safely in Debra Ferguson's yard, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg reported.

She said 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."

Caroline County resident Paula Dustin said she and her family and a friend were watching the balloons inflate and take off when they saw one in the distance that appeared to be in distress.

"We saw a glow, and you could tell the bottom of the balloon was in flames," Dustin was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

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