CAROLINE, VA (WWBT) - Two members of the University of Richmond's women's basketball team staff were among those in a hot air balloon which crashed Friday in Caroline County, according to multiple media reports.
Virginia State Police and the NTSB have not yet named the three people on board the balloon, but a family member of Ginny Doyle told the Washington Post the associate head coach was among those presumed dead. The other victim identified by the newspaper is Natalie Lewis, 24, who served as director of basketball operations. Lewis' parents confirmed to the Washington Post she was in the balloon and remained missing.
State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said they found one body shortly before midnight and a second body around 11 a.m. Police continue searching for the basket, which detached from the balloon during the crash. They have transitioned the operation from rescue to recovery. The FAA and NTSB are helping State Police with the investigation.
State Police believe the balloon went down when it struck a power line and caught fire around 7:56 p.m. Friday. The pilot began emergency safety maneuvers to get the fire under control, but witnesses told troopers the gondola and balloon eventually separated. Witnesses also reported hearing what sounded like two explosions.
Carrie Hager-Bradley was on her way home from the grocery store and saw the balloon on fire. She said she could hear cries from the people onboard.
"They were just screaming for anybody to help them. 'Help me. Help me, sweet Jesus. Help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,'" Hager-Bradley said.
Hager-Bradley went on to say her daughter witnessed what appeared to be one occupant of the balloon fall to the ground.
DID YOU WITNESS THE BALLOON IN DISTRESS? Virginia State Police want to speak with anyone who may have seen the balloon on fire near the Caroline Pines subdivision. Call (804) 994-5754 with any information.
The balloon was one of three traveling northeast to a designated landing zone. The other two balloons were able to land safely.
The organizers of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival released the following statement:
"The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival regrets that there was a safety incident involving one of the balloons participating on the evening of May 9. Virginia State Police and local officials and law enforcement are on-site and trained for any emergency. Emergency officials responded to the incident.
According to the VSP, a balloon caught fire and crashed northeast of the Meadow Event Park. No wreckage has been found yet, and there are no confirmed injuries or fatalities. However, the pilot and at least two passengers are missing.
A ground search is currently under way involving VSP, the Federal Aviation Administration as well as Caroline and Henrico County law enforcement and EMS personnel. State Police report that bad weather elsewhere in the Richmond vicinity has grounded air search for the time being.
A balloon festival spokesman said the remainder of the event has been canceled. Details regarding advance ticket purchases for Saturday's and Sunday's events will be announced soon."
Mobile users click here for raw video and images of the crash: http://bit.ly/1ogaQQ2