WNY woman may have been in Virginia balloon crash

A young woman from Western New York may be among the victims of a terrible hot-air balloon accident which occurred Friday night in the Richmond, Virginia area.

Virginia state police say that at least two bodies have been recovered in their search for three people who were aboard the basket of this hot air balloon.

It had launched near sunset as part of a weekend balloon festival and apparently drifted into power lines at the finish when it burst into flames and crashed.

Search crews are still scouring the wooded area near suburban homes about 25 miles north of Richmond.

Police say the pilot of the balloon did what he could to save it.

"He was making every measure possible. They take several measures to vent the top of the balloon, because what happens is the fire actually increases the heat and that actually makes the balloon rise rather rapidly. So, he was doing his efforts to vent the balloon to help try and bring it down from rising so quickly. He was trying to manage the fire, put it out best he could, of course, provide the safety measures for his two passengers. Unfortunately, though, this was a very rapid event, a very rapid escalation."

The family of Natalie Lewis, a Buffalo native who graduated from Nardin Academy, says she was apparently on board the balloon when it hit the power line.

Lewis was the Director of Women's Basketball in the University of Richmond athletic department.

The statement from the Lewis family reads: "The search continues for our beloved daughter and we remain hopeful and ask for your continued prayers."

The NBC affiliate in Richmond tells us the state police have for now postponed their press conferences while they wait for more word on the search for the third victim and confirmation of the victims' identities.

On Saturday night, the University of Richmond issued a statement confirming that two of the university's women's basketball staff members were killed in the hot-air balloon crash in Caroline County on Friday.

WGRZ sister station WWBT in Richmond is reporting that the university extended its prayers and thoughts to the families of Ginny Doyle, associate head women's basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis, director of basketball operations.

"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," President Edward L. Ayers is quoted as saying. "Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many."

We will be following this story and will bring you updates here on WGRZ.com and Channel 2 News Tonight at 11.


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