Balloon Crash Victims Were Billiken Basketball Opponents
DOSWELL, Va. (KMOX/AP) - The deadly hot-air balloon crash in Virginia may be hitting a local sports team especially hard.
School administrators say University of Richmond women’s basketball associate head coach Ginny Doyle and operations director Natalie Lewis were killed in Friday night’s incident.
Richmond is in the same conference as St. Louis University – in fact, the team came to Chaifetz Arena for a game last January.
The remains of the pilot have not been recovered.
Virginia State Police say the balloon drifted into a power line and burst into flames.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it will have a preliminary report on the crash in 10 days.
“Words cannot begin to express our sorrow,” Keith Gill, the Richmond’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.
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. The festival was canceled. About 740 people attended the preview event.
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.
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