Authorities have identified all three of the victims that perished after a hot air balloon crash Friday afternoon during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival in Richmond, Virginia. The victims were identified as Ginny Doyle, Natalie Lewis, and Daniel Kirk. Doyle and Lewis were both employed at the University of Richmond as basketball staffers. Doyle, 44, was the associate head coach of the women’s basketball team while Lewis, 24, was the director of basketball operations. Kirk had served 37 years in the military as an Army lieutenant colonel.
It is reported that Kirk had upwards of 30 years of experience in ballooning, and he was not a daredevil in any sense. He stuck to the basics when it came to the operation of the balloon, never participating in dangerous tricks or stunts. It is reported that those who knew the pilot were in utter disbelief upon learning that he was identified as the one flying the hot air balloon that crashed in Virginia, and do not believe the event that led to the death of three victims was in any way connected to his flying abilities.
The crash in Virginia occurred slightly after takeoff, the procedure of which had already been delayed because of the heavy fog in the surrounding area. Once the hot air balloon become airborne, it came into contact with a power line, causing it to burst into flames.
There are reports that Kirk attempted to regain control of the crashing apparatus, making efforts to control the fire to no avail. Explosions were reportedly heard as the pilot struggled to remedy the situation, during which the fire spread even further. Shortly after this, it is said that the basket and balloon became separate, sealing the fate of the deceased. Witnesses recall hearing the terrified screams and pleas for help from the victims as the hot air balloon began to sink, with reports that the victims were screaming “Oh god, I’m going to die.” Two of the occupants, later discovered to have been Doyle and Lewis, were next seen tumbling out of the fiery mess, although it is uncertain if they fell or made the decision to abandon the burning balloon.
After the first body was found, which was that of the pilot, Kirk, the rough weather conditions surrounding Richmond hindered the search party’s ability to find both the remaining two bodies and the rest of the hot air balloon wreckage. The bodies of Doyle and Lewis were discovered on Saturday. The entirety of the balloon’s wreckage has yet to be found.
The remainder of Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival was cancelled to pay respect to those who died during this horrifying event. The University of Richmond’s convocation ceremony was not rescheduled and proceeded as planned, although the event was reportedly filled with solemn and grief-stricken faces for not only the two University employees, but all of the victims identified in the hot air balloon crash in Virginia. Authorities are still trying to piece together what exactly transpired that led to the hot air balloon crash in Virginia.
By Rebecca Grace