The pilot of a hot-air balloon that exploded, killing three people, in Virginia Friday may not have known that deadly power lines were near his landing site.
New reports say that the power lines the balloon hit may not have been on the pilot's map. When the balloon hit the wires, it caught fire. The balloon then exploded, killing two passengers and the pilot.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Monday that the power line "apparently wasn't on the map the pilot was looking at or not looking at, but we don't know for sure," according to NBC12 in Richmond.
Two members of the University of Richmond's women's basketball staff died in the explosion, according to the university: Associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis.
The pilot, Daniel Kirk, also died. Witnesses said he could be seen trying to exinguish the fire before the explosion.
Virginia State Police and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are now focusing their efforts on finding the balloon wreckage. The incident happened in a rural part of Caroline County.
Anyone with photos or video of the balloon crash is asked to send them to the NTSB via email at mailto:email@example.com.
Preparations for the University of Richmond's graduation ceremonies were tinged with sadness Sunday.
"Words cannot begin to express our sorrow,'' Keith Gill, the school's athletic director, said in a news release. "We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones.''
Lewis just completed her second year as director of basketball operations for the women's team, according to a profile on the university's website. The Buffalo, New York, native was a four-year letter winner and two-time captain of the Spiders' swim team.
A spokeswoman for Lewis' family, Julie Snyder, called Lewis "an amazing person and a strong person, an athlete engaged to be married.''
Doyle, who graduated from Richmond in 1992 after a standout basketball career, served on the team staff for 16 years after that including nine winning seasons. She earned all-conference honors twice as a player.
"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,'' university President Edward L. Ayers said in the news release.
The university canceled two weekend baseball games and held a moment of silence at commencement Saturday for its law school.
Amber Battle, who will be a senior next season, said from her home in Apex, N.C., that her coach, Michael Shafer, was keeping the team updated via text messages.
He told them that he was also at the balloon festival.
"I just can't believe this happened,'' she said.
Witnesses to the crash described a harrowing sight on the special preview night for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, which was set to open Saturday. About 740 people attended the preview event; the festival was canceled.
On the ground, "It was complete silence,'' spectator Nancy Johnson said. "There were people praying. It was horrible.''
The balloon was among 13 that lifted off Friday night from Meadow Event Park, home to the State Fair of Virginia, and was approaching a landing site nearby. Two of the balloons landed safely before the third hit the live power line, according to police.
The pilot attempted to retain control of the balloon and snuff the fire and two passengers either jumped or fell from the gondola, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
"Then witnesses recall hearing an explosion and the fire continued to spread,'' Geller said.
She said another pilot interviewed by investigators described how the pilot tried to open vents to release extra-hot air in an attempt to keep the balloon from rising faster.
"Based on witness accounts, he did everything he could to try to save the passengers' lives,'' Geller said.
Troy Bradley, past president of the Balloon Federation of America, said most serious accidents on balloons -- including fires, electrocution or baskets becoming severed -- happen after hitting power lines.
Fatal accidents happen less often than with other types of aircraft, Bradley said.
"Hundreds of thousands of flights will go without any notice. That one that hits the news gets all the attention, but ballooning is a very, very safe form of aviation.''
Johnson, who went as a spectator to the festival with her husband, photographed the balloon after the accident. She said the crash near the park about 25 miles north of Richmond occurred in an instant.
"One minute the balloons were hovering in a field behind Event Park, the next everyone is pointing at sky,'' she said.
Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery and heard people yelling.
"They were just screaming for anybody to help them,'' she told WWBT TV.
First published May 12 2014, 9:01 PM