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Virginia hot-air balloon fire: 2nd body found

A hot-air balloon catches fire Friday, May 9, 2014.
May 10, 2014 7:11:02 AM PDT
Two bodies were recovered Saturday after a hot air balloon caught fire in Virginia. A search for a third body continues.

The remains of two people were found about a mile apart in dense woods. Investigators say the pilot attempted to retain control of the balloon and two passengers either jumped or fell from the flaming gondola.

University of Richmond administrators said in a news release Saturday that associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis were two of the three people aboard the balloon that crashed.

"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."

More than 100 searchers are scouring the woods and fields of the central Virginia site of the crash for the third body and any remnants of the balloon or its basket, state police said. The search was being scaled back as darkness approached but was set to resume Sunday. Investigators declined to say whose remains had already been found.

The crash happened near the Meadow Event Park during a kick-off event for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival. Police say the balloon was one of 13 that had taken flight in the regional festival. Two of the balloons had already landed safely before the third hit the power line, according to police.

Eyewitnesses said they saw the balloon in flames and heard screams for help shortly before 8 p.m. Friday.

"As it was making its approach is when it came into contact with the power line, and then due to the fire, that unfortunately caused the balloon to lift very quickly," said police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.

People who saw the balloon in trouble felt helpless because there was nothing they could do.

"You could hear the people screaming, 'Please, God. Somebody help us!' We saw two passengers jump. There was nothing anybody could do; they were too far off the ground," said witness Carrie Bradley.

"It was the most horrific thing I've ever witnessed. We could see the two passengers inside of it, and it just kept getting higher and higher, and there was basically nothing we could do for them," said witness Derick Childers.

The balloon festival was supposed to run through Sunday, but organizers have canceled the event. The university canceled two weekend baseball games and held a moment of silence at its commencement Saturday.

An air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board said a preliminary report would be released on the crash in 10 days. Investigators were seeking records on the balloon and the pilot.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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