Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

2 found dead after hot-air balloon catches fire

Virginia balloon crash devastates University of Richmond basketball team

DOSWELL, Va. — Ginny Doyle was formidable on the basketball court, but a little skittish about getting into a hot-air balloon.

"Getting ready to go up in a hot air balloon today," Doyle, a former University of Richmond basketball player and the Spiders' associate head coach, posted on Twitter and Instagram on Friday afternoon. "Tried it at 6:30am but was too foggy. Will go up this evening #anxiety."

Around 6 p.m., Doyle, 44, was about to try again, posting a photo of the preparations.

Joining her in the basket were two others, the pilot and Natalie Lewis, 24, the Spiders' director of basketball operations. In the next balloon was Spiders head coach Michael Shafer and his two daughters, 7 and 9.

About two hours later, Shafer's balloon landed safely. But moments after that, the balloon carrying Doyle and Lewis hit a power line and caught fire. The pilot attempted to control the fire and the balloon. Two people either fell or leaped from the gondola. There was an explosion. More fire. The basket and balloon went off in separate directions.

On Saturday, rescuers recovered the bodies of two people who had been in the balloon; they declined to say which ones. Lewis' parents said their daughter was the one who remained missing. They held out hope that the more than 100 rescuers combing a wide, heavily wooded swath of Caroline County would find her alive.

"The search continues for our beloved daughter and we remain hopeful and ask for your continued prayers," Patricia and Evan Lewis said in a written statement.

Shafer organized the outing to the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival with his colleagues.

The two basketball officials and pilot were in the balloon about 8 p.m. Friday that witnesses said crashed amid screams for help.

Virginia State Police said they have not identified the passengers or the pilot. The first body was found in a heavily wooded area shortly before midnight Friday, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said. The second was recovered about 11 a.m. Saturday, about 1,500 yards away. The balloon and gondola carrying the pilot and two passengers have not been found and may have burned, she said.

Geller said the balloon was one of 13 that took flight Friday as part of an event in advance of the balloon festival scheduled for Saturday and canceled in the wake of the accident.

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