Third body found after Virginia hot-air balloon crash
The third and final victim of a fatal hot-air balloon crash in a rural, heavily wooded area of Virginia has been found, officials announced.
The remains of the balloon’s last missing passenger were discovered near the Caroline Pines subdivision in Caroline County, Va., on Sunday morning, bringing a rescue effort that involved more than 100 searchers to a somber end.
The crash victims were Natalie Lewis, the 24-year-old director of operations for the University of Richmond women’s basketball team; Ginny Doyle, 44, the team’s associate head coach; and 65-year-old retired Army Lt. Col. Daniel Kirk, who was piloting the balloon.
The three were riding one of the 13 balloons that took off from a balloon festival Friday evening. The trouble began when their balloon hit a live utility line near their landing spot, officials said.
The balloon immediately caught fire, and the two passengers fell or jumped out of the balloon’s basket while Kirk tried to control the situation until the basket separated from the balloon, officials said, citing witness accounts.
“Now that the male pilot and two female passengers have all been located, this concludes the large-scale search efforts of the operation,” the Virginia State Police said in a statement. “Virginia State Police and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators are now concentrating on locating the balloon wreckage and evidence collection.”
Kirk, the pilot, loved flying and traveling, his father, Donald, said by telephone Saturday. The younger Kirk started flying balloons commercially about a decade ago in Delaware, nicknaming his balloon “Starship” and himself “Captain.”
Doyle had worked on the Richmond women’s basketball for 16 years after graduating as a standout player for the team in 1992, the university said. She still leads the program in career free-throw percentage, at 85.4%. In her senior year, the 1991-92 season, her free-throw percentage was 95%.
Lewis graduated in 2011 from Richmond, where she was a championship swimmer and four-year varsity letter winner before getting a job with the university, school officials said.
The university canceled two weekend baseball games and held a moment of silence at its law school commencement Saturday, according to the Associated Press.
Before the Virginia accident, balloon crashes had killed 114 people in 67 incidents in the United States since 1964, according to an NTSB database.
Last month, the NTSB expressed concern about “the number of recurring accidents” involving similar safety issues.
The Balloon Federation of America responded to the NTSB’s scrutiny by criticizing a plan that would require balloon operators to have accreditation from the Federal Aviation Administration, calling it “burdensome” and “unnecessary.”
The federation could not be immediately reached for comment Sunday about the Virginia crash.
Times staff writer Paresh Dave contributed to this report.
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