Two balloon crash victims were college basketball staffers

By: CBS
By: CBS

CBS - Two members of the University of Richmond women's basketball staff were passengers on a hot air balloon that crashed in Virginia Friday night, CBS News has confirmed.

One victim, Natalie Lewis, was the director of basketball operations for the Richmond Spiders. Her parents arrived in Richmond Saturday from their hometown of Buffalo, New York.

The second woman aboard the balloon was identified by the university as Ginny Doyle, the team's associate head coach.

"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, the university's president, Edward L. Ayers, said in a statement."Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many."

Friends of the balloon captain, Dan Kirk, called him a true ambassador to the sport of hot air ballooning.

The balloon's basket caught fire after touching a power line near Doswell, Virginia, north of Richmond, the state capital.

Search crews combing the dense woods Saturday for the three victims' bodies recovered two of them 1,500 yards apart.

Carrie Bradley heard people yelling for help just before the basket carrying them broke apart.

"You could hear them screaming, 'Please dear God, sweet Jesus, help us. We're going to die. Oh my God, please help us. Please help us,'" Bradley said.

Bradley and other witnesses saw the balloon hit power lines while trying to land.

"It was kind of like a pop, but when that happened the basket exploded and debris started falling to the ground," Bradley said.

Seconds after it hit the power lines, police say the balloon pilot tried to vent the balloon and contain the fire.

"He had to act very rapidly before the gondola and the balloon actually separated," Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said. "Based on the witness accounts, he made every effort to do everything he could in his power to save his passengers' lives and his own."

The NTSB arrived in Doswell to investigate. Event organizers canceled this weekend's balloon festival.

Doyle, a former Richmond basketball standout who graduated in 1992, has served on the Spiders' staff for 16 years, the university said in the statement. During her tenure at Richmond, she helped to guide the Spiders to nine winning seasons.

Lewis graduated from Richmond in 2011 and began her professional career with the school's athletics in 2012. While an undergraduate, she was a championship swimmer, serving twice as team captain. She also was a student government cabinet member.

"Words cannot begin to express our sorrow," said Keith Gill, the director of athletics. "We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones.
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