A preliminary report released by the National Transportation Safety Board confirms that the hot air balloon that caught fire and killed three people at the start of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival on May 9 collided with power lines. The report also reveals that no flight plan was filed for the flight that took off around 7:40 p.m. that Friday night.
“Multiple eyewitnesses reported that the accident balloon approached a field from the south where another balloon had just landed,” the report states. “As the accident balloon approached the landing site, the pilot engaged the burner; however, the balloon struck power lines, which resulted in a spark. Subsequently, the balloon basket and a section of the envelope caught fire. The balloon began an accelerated climb and drifted out of sight.”
ABC 8News was the first station to break this story and spoke with multiple eyewitnesses after the tragedy occurred.
Eyewitness Nancy Johnson said she noticed something wasn’t quite right with the balloon as it rose into the air.
“Everything was fine, and something told me to start taking pictures,” Johnson said, noting that the balloon in question seemed to have a brighter burn to it than the other balloons at the festival. “I said, ‘something’s not right,’ … and then all of a sudden, the flame went out. It was just dead silence; I knew that it wasn’t good.”
Photographer Dawn Howeth, a photographer from Tappahannock, also saw the horrific event take place.
“It was awful … on fire going farther and farther away,” Howeth told Digital Content Producer Lindsey Leake roughly 90 minutes after it happened. “ Part of me wishes I had a zoom lens on, the other part of me is glad I didn’t; what I saw is bad enough in my mind.”
Witness Cole Holocker told Claudia Rupcich, the first reporter at the scene, that he felt helpless watching flames and smoke envelop the balloon.
The balloon’s seasoned pilot, Daniel Kirk, and two passengers, University of Richmond Associate Head Women’s Basketball Coach Ginny Doyle and UR Director of Basketball Operations Natalie Lewis, were killed.
The preliminary NTSB report goes on to say that the accident balloon left behind a debris path spanning 1.75 miles in length.
“Two stainless steel propane fuel tanks, a hand-held fire extinguisher, the instrument panel, and various pieces of the charred envelope fabric, associated with the lower portion of the balloon envelope, were recovered along the debris path,” the report states. “Both propane fuel tanks were intact but exhibited thermal and impact damage. The balloon crown, crown ring, deflation port, the burner, and two other propane fuel tanks were not recovered.”
According to the report, the balloon last had its annual inspection on Aug. 5, 2013. It had accumulated 270.4 hours of total time.
CLICK HERE to read the full NTSB report.
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