CAROLINE, VA (WWBT) - The pilot of the hot air balloon which crashed Friday in Caroline had more than 30 years experience.
Daniel 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.
In a 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.
"Dan was a very accomplished balloon pilot that enjoyed flying in competitive balloon events and was a true ambassador to the sport of hot air ballooning," said Mark Nelson, a friend of Kirk's for 35 years. "Dan Kirk will be greatly missed by everyone in ballooning across America. Our hearts go out to Dan's family and the families of passengers involved in the balloon accident."
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FAA records show the balloon was certified in 2001 and its certification wasn't set to expire until 2017.
Kirk was piloting the balloon for two members of the University of Richmond's women's basketball team staff Friday when it crashed in Caroline County.
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 family of Natalie Lewis said the 24-year-old director of basketball operations for the team was also on board. Though they say her body has not been located and remain hopeful, State Police have transitioned the operation from rescue to recovery.
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.
The balloon was one of three traveling northeast to a designated landing zone. The other two balloons were able to land safely.