Medical examiner releases causes of death in hot air balloon crash

CAROLINE, VA (WWBT) - The Medical Examiner's Office released the causes of death Tuesday in last week's deadly hot air balloon crash.

Natalie Lewis died of acute thermal injury, while Virginia Doyle died of blunt force trauma to her neck and torso and Daniel Kirk died of blunt force trauma of head, torso and extremities, according to the Medical Examiner. The report also states the deaths were accidental.

The fiery crash, captured in photo and video by witnesses on Friday, killed the pilot, Kirk, and two University of Richmond women's basketball team staff members.

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Doyle served as associate head women's basketball coach at the University of Richmond. Lewis was director of basketball operations.

The crash came during the inaugural Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival at Meadow Event Park. The remainder of the festival was subsequently canceled.

The balloon was piloted by Kirk, a veteran ballooner with more than 30 years experience, when it struck a power line and caught fire around 7:56 p.m. Friday. Kirk 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.

Doyle was a two-time all-conference player at Richmond who graduated in 1992. She led the Spiders to the 1991 CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament and is the program's career leader in free throw percentage. She set the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 66, a mark that stood for 18 years.

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After graduation Doyle joined the  Spiders' staff for 16 years. The Spiders had nine winning seasons, including a trip to the 2006 NCAA tournament and a first-ever appearance in the Atlantic 10 Championship final in 2009, during her 16 years at the university.

Lewis was a championship swimmer and four-year varsity letter winner at Richmond, serving twice as team captain. She was on three Atlantic 10 swimming championship teams, as well as a student government cabinet member and Spider Scholar Athlete when she graduated in 2011. She began her professional career with Spider Athletics in 2012.

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Kirk was a pilot for Starship Adventures, which offered scenic hot air balloon flights over the DelMarVa area of the Eastern Shore. Kirk held a commercial balloon pilot license issued by the Federal Aviation Administration and was fully insured for commercial balloon operations, according to the company's website.

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Kirk claims he has "29 plus years" experience in a YouTube video published nearly two years ago of him training a beginner to fly a balloon.

His father, Donald, told NBC news his son was a retired lieutenant Army colonel who served in the military for 37 years. He called the crash "just a freak accident" saying his son was always very cautious.

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