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Search continues for 3rd body in Va. balloon crash

Richmond Coach Feared Dead In Crash

By LARRY O'DELL

DOSWELL, Va. (AP) - A second body was recovered Saturday from the crash of a hot air balloon carrying three that drifted into a power line and burst into flames in front of hundreds of horrified spectators.

More than 100 searchers were called in to scour the woods and fields of the central Virginia site of the crash for the third victim and any remnants of the balloon or its basket, state police said.

None of the victims has been identified.

Witnesses said they heard the anguished pleas of the passengers Friday night as the balloon touched the power line and erupted into flames.

On the ground, "It was complete silence," eyewitness Nancy Johnson said. "There were people praying. It was horrible."

The balloon crashed Friday night ahead of an inaugural balloon festival. It was among 13 balloons that took off from Meadow Event Park, home to the State Fair of Virginia, and was approaching a landing site nearby. Two of the balloons landed safely before the third hit the live power line.

The pilot attempted to retain control of the balloon and snuff the fire and two passengers either jumped or fell from the gondola, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.

"Then witnesses recall hearing an explosion and the fire continued to spread," Geller said. The gondola and the balloon then separated.

Federal investigators were at the scene in rural Carolina County.

Troy Bradley, past president of the Balloon Federation of America, said most serious accidents on balloons - including fires, electrocution or baskets becoming severed - happen after hitting power lines. Most of the time it's due to pilot error, he said.

Fatal accidents happen less often than with other types of aircraft, Bradley said.

"Hundreds of thousands of flights will go without any notice. That one that hits the news gets all the attention, but ballooning is a very, very safe form of aviation."

The crash occurred on the eve of the official start of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, which was canceled followed the crash. The area is about 25 miles north of Richmond.

Johnson said the crash occurred in an instant.

"One minute the balloons were hovering in a field behind Event Park, the next everyone is pointing at sky," she said.

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she saw the balloon in flames on her way home from the grocery and heard people yelling.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," she told WWBT TV. One person screamed, "Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die."

Donnell Ferguson said he was cutting grass when he saw a couple balloons passing by. One was low, barely at tree-top level.

"At first I saw a cloud of black smoke and then I noticed the basket on fire," he said. "Then it just took off real fast and disappeared."

The crash occurred during a special festival kickoff event Friday for about 740 people.

Twenty balloonists from the Mid-Atlantic region were to participate in the weekend festival, said Greg Hicks, a spokesman for the venue.

"It's just a shocking situation for everyone," Hicks said.

Robert Rinck, who was operating a frozen yogurt concession, said he watched the balloons lift off against a beautiful sunset. A few minutes later, someone said a balloon was on fire. He looked up and saw fire coming from the balloon.

"I just didn't know why it was going up and not down," Rinck said.

Johnson, who went to the festival with her husband, photographed the balloon as it rose.

"I turned around and just automatically started taking pictures," she said. "It just kept going up, up, up in the air."

Some hot air balloons landed safely in Debra Ferguson's yard, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg reported. One of the men in the balloons pointed up at another still in the air and said he thought it might be in trouble.

"As soon as we looked up, the thing blew up right there," Ferguson told the newspaper. "All I heard was, 'Oh my God, Oh my God,' and all you saw was the top of the balloon still flying, but all of the basket was gone. All of the flames just disappeared. ... It was like a match - poof - and then it was gone."

___

Associated Press airlines reporter David Koenig and Richmond reporter Steve Szkotak contributed to this report.

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thankgodikauai May 11 2014 at 6:37 AM

paris hilton was asked to comment

"That's Hot"

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klnpiano May 11 2014 at 8:58 AM

What a horrific tragedy ..... there is NO way I would ever get into one of those things..
Too unpredictable.
Just like all those air shows you read about... how many of those "antique" planes are doing shows for the crowd and then crash? THOSE should be outlawed. Too many accidents. Not safe.

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1 reply
mksrs klnpiano May 11 2014 at 11:58 AM

More people are killed in car accidents then airplanes and hot air balloons combined, are you going to outlaw cars?

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r_porterfield May 11 2014 at 9:15 AM

This is so unfortunate. I wish that they would have tried to crash land after hitting the power lines but I'm sure it happened so quickly, they didn't have time to react in a way that could have saved them. So so sad. I still want to fly in a balloon though and i will. So many fly every day and have few accidents. Most accidents have to do with power lines. So if I should ever go in a balloon and the pilot gets a bit too close, I will flip on them. My heart goes out to the family members.

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1 reply
Adele r_porterfield May 11 2014 at 10:26 AM

If you watch the video - you will see why it couldn't crash land - the heat from the fire made the balloon rise.

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The Brain May 10 2014 at 10:55 PM

There is nothing safe about hot air ballons. If you decide to go up in one, make sure you have on a parachute.

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1 reply
barryaclarke The Brain May 10 2014 at 11:37 PM

Whai's not safe about them? Would you care to explane, but I'm sure the only thing you can say about them is something that you make up that's not fact. Maybe if it didn't run into powerlines, there would have been a different outcome........................

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3 replies
klassikars May 10 2014 at 10:46 PM

Years ago I was driving on 35W leaving Fort Worth, Texas, off to the west just north of there, a large group of hot air balloons were getting aloft. As most of the group were ascending, and doing well, one was losing altitude and as we drove, much to our shock, the straggler, ran into a high tension line. As it fell, the airbag was snagged by a passing southbound freight train...As we were on the opposite side of the train, we didn't see what occurred after this. Though the train continued. I never did hear what happened to those unfortunates in the basket.

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Agi May 10 2014 at 9:56 PM

Prayers to those involved and their families....I'm too much of a scardy-cat to do dangerous things. I know it's not ALL such activities that end in tragedy; however, I don't need to take a chance. I was more adventurous when I was younger.....lol

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chairepair May 10 2014 at 9:47 PM

thank you

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artorius317 May 11 2014 at 2:55 AM

, "Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die."

I guess their imaginary friend wasn't listening.

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8 replies
barbara May 10 2014 at 9:26 PM

so sad. . . .

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Tyler May 10 2014 at 9:23 PM

Me being a scuba diver for 10 years now and at one time i was on dirt and street bikes for 36 years.and so far live to talk about it.every day we put are life in gods hands and hope to open are eyes another day. I dont like to fly in any way. been there done that.looking down over a 1000 feet is fun but i like to be on the groung.I am so sorry for the people and familys.and all the people that had to see and hear people ask God to help them. The people that saw it will have this in there mind for the rest of there life.god bless all.

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