Two bodies have been recovered after a hot air balloon caught fire Friday evening at Meadow Event Park during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival [Photo courtesy Robert Cox (@snuffleshideout) via Jim Cox (@jbjbjr)].
A deadly hot air balloon accident in Doswell on May 9 claimed the lives of at least 2 people.
This photo was taken at Meadow Event Park May 9 at 7:07 p.m. Courtesy: Eddie Weindel
DOSWELL, Va. (WRIC) -
The remains of two people have been recovered by Virginia State Police, after a hot air balloon struck a power line and caught fire Friday evening at Meadow Event Park during the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival. The search for the final occupant of the balloon continues.
At the second press conference of the day Saturday, Virginia State Police told the public that the second body was found north of where the first body was discovered, around 11:00 Saturday. Both victims' remains were found in the Ruther Glen area of Caroline County.
VSP Spokeswoman Corinne Geller also said that based on witness accounts, the pilot did all he could to save his two passengers.
State Police also addressed the public on the horrific accident at a press conference Saturday morning shortly after 8:00 a.m. At that time, Geller confirmed that one body has been found and said police would continue to use all available resources to locate the other occupants.
While debris has been located in a "heavily wooded area," police are still looking for the hot air balloon basket and wreckage.
Geller thanked officers as well as the public for their assistance in the search, and noted that they've received helpful tips in 30-40 calls from the public about the accident.
Shortly before 8 p.m. on May 9, three hot air balloons took flight, heading north of the park to a designated landing zone in a field off of Ruther Glen Road, according to Virginia State Police. Two of the balloons landed safely. The third came in contact with a live utility line during its descent and immediately caught fire.
Police say that based on witness accounts, it appears the pilot attempted to regain control of the balloon and manage the fire. The balloon's two passengers then leapt from the basket before witnesses recall hearing an explosion and seeing the fire spread. The gondola eventually separated from the balloon.
"Multiple troopers, deputies ... will continue through the night until we find the wreckage," Geller said during a news conference Friday night, adding that police are looking at two possible wreckage sites.
In a statement released early Saturday morning, VSP said the Caroline County Sheriff's Office, Caroline County Fire and Rescue, and Henrico County Police all assisted in its overnight air and ground searches in the immediate area for the wrecked balloon and its passengers.
The FAA responded to the scene on Friday night, and the NTSB has also been notified.
"The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival regrets that there was a safety incident involving one of the balloons participating on the evening of May 9. Virginia State Police and local officials are on-site and trained for any emergency. Emergency officials responded to the incident. According to VSP, a balloon caught fire and crashed northeast of the Meadow Event Park. No wreckage has been found yet, and there are no confirmed injuries or fatalities. However, the pilot and at least two passengers are missing. A ground search is currently under way involving VSP, the Federal Aviation Administration as well as Caroline and Henrico County law enforcement and EMS personnel. State Police report that bad weather elsewhere in the Richmond vicinity has grounded air search for the time being. A balloon festival spokesman said the remainder of the event has been canceled. Details regarding advance ticket purchases for Saturday's and Sunday's events will be announced soon."
ABC 8News Digital Content Producer Lindsey Leake spoke with Dawn Howeth, a photographer from Tappahannock, who witnessed the flaming balloon. She was there to see the balloon glow, where patrons gather to see the balloons lit up from the inside. She says only 1,500 tickets were available for the VIP event. Howeth said the balloons went north, up into the air, and were supposed to come back down. One didn't.
"All of a sudden, we could see a balloon rise up that was obviously on fire," Howeth said. "We watched something large fall from it, assuming it was the basket. There were three people in it when it took off."
Howeth says a friend in the Caroline County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management told her the basket had been located--without a trace of the passengers. Virginia State Police have not confirmed that the basket has been located.
"It was awful ... on fire going farther and farther away," Howeth said. "I can't tell you how high up it was, but it was a good distance away."
Howeth says she's glad she didn't have her zoom lens on hand when she witnessed the tragedy.
"Part of me wishes I had a zoom lens on, the other part of me is glad I didnt," she said. "What I saw is bad enough in my mind."