2 Bodies Recovered, 1 Missing in Air Balloon Crash

Two members of U. of Richmond women's basketball staff said to be among victims

Virginia State Police said two bodies have been recovered and one person is still missing after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed Friday evening just south of Fredericksburg.

The body of the pilot and one woman have been recovered, but not officially identified. The two bodies were found about 1,500 yards apart in heavily forested areas, according to The Associated Press.

However, the family of the pilot confirmed their son was in the balloon. Daniel T. Kirk was a retired Army veteran who had over 30 years of ballooning experience; Kirk's father said he had flown with his son over 40 times and that he was always careful while up in the air.

He called Friday's incident "just a freak accident."

And the University of Richmond said late Saturday that two members of the staff of the women's basketball program were aboard the balloon: Ginny Doyle, associate head women's basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis, director of basketball operations.

"As alumnae, classmates and colleagues -- and as invaluable and devoted mentors to our student-athletes -- Ginny and Natalie have been beloved members of our community," University of Richmond President Edward L. Ayers said in a statement on the university website. "Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many."

One victim has not yet been found. Although police have described their search as an operation to recover remains, Lewis' parents said they haven't given up hope.

"We don't have a loss yet, we have a tragic accident," Patricia and Evan Lewis told NBC News. "We remain hopeful."

Over 100 searchers spent much of Saturday scouring the woods and fields around the site of the crash, police said. Remanants of the balloon or its basket have not been recovered.

The incident occurred near Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, just south of Fredericksburg around 8 p.m. The balloon was one of three attempting to land in a designated landing area.

One of the balloons struck a live power line and caught fire. The pilot attempted to extinguish the fire and manage the situation, witnesses said, when there was an explosion. The balloon and the gondola separated after the explosion.

Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne Geller said the two bodies that have been recovered have been sent to the Chief Medical Officer for autopsy and positive identification.

Searchers are continuing to canvass the area for the third person as well as the basket and balloon. Geller said they would continue overnight if necessary, but they are searching in a heavily wooded, overgrown area.

Geller said searchers have found debris and specialized teams will be spreading out from that area. Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are also on scene.

The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival was taking place in the area this weekend. A "Friday Flights Happy Hour" was scheduled for three hours beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.

As of 11 p.m. Friday, festival planners announced on Facebook the rest of the weekend's events are canceled.

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