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Coaches, pilot remembered after balloon crash

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The two University of Richmond basketball coaches killed in a hot-air balloon crash were a beloved long-time assistant who was part of one of the most revered moments in the program's history, and a woman who was hardly out of college and always cheerful and willing to help.

The pilot, Daniel T. Kirk, was also killed when the balloon drifted into a power line and burst into flames Friday. He had 20 years of flying experience and was affectionately known as "Capt. Kirk."

At the university's graduation Sunday, a moment of silence was held for the coaches - director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis and associate head coach Ginny Doyle.

As a senior for the Spiders, Doyle set an NCAA record - for men or women - by making 66 consecutive free throws, an accomplishment that earned her dubious recognition from CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer.

Packer, an 81.9 percent free-throw shooter at Wake Forest, scoffed at the record on air and noted that women use a slightly smaller ball, which in his mind made it less impressive.

Hearing that Packer was going to be in Richmond on another matter, the school invited him to come shoot against Doyle, and about 1,200 fans watched the duel at the Robins Center on Feb. 2, 1992.

It was no contest: Doyle, using a men's ball, made 20 of 20, with only two of them touching the rim. Packer, to the delight of the crowd, missed eight of his 20 attempts.

Her record has since been broken, but years later her foul shooting, as well as her love of the game and her players, remained on display, according to Robert Fish, a Richmond alum who also has called women's games on radio.

Doyle, 44, was hired by Bob Foley at Richmond in 1999 and stayed on through a couple of coaching changes.

Lewis was a four-year letter-winner in swimming who just completed her second season with the basketball program. Her job required organization skills as she made travel, hotel and bus arrangements for the team, planned for meals and handled day-to-day basketball business.

In the grind of a season, broadcaster Matt Smith said, she was a shining light, too.

"Sometimes when you work in sports, coaches can be so high strung and so focused on the next game or what's going on that you feel almost uncomfortable when you go into the office, but her being the first one that you would see, she always had a smile on her face," Smith said.

Kirk, of Delaware, was known by fellow pilots as "Capt. Kirk," the hammy commander of the USS Enterprise on the TV series "Star Trek."

Steve Hoffmann, who said he taught Kirk to fly and built the balloon he was piloting, called him "one of the nicest guys in the world" and a consummate professional.

"He was not a hot dog, not a risk taker," Hoffmann said. "It's so unbelievable that everyone's in shock."

The balloon was among 13 that lifted off Friday on a preview night for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival when it drifted into a power line, burst into flames and fell into a heavily wooded area about 25 miles north of Richmond.

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

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said another pilot interviewed by investigators described how the pilot tried to open vents to release extra-hot air in an attempt to keep the balloon from rising faster.

"Based on witness accounts, he did everything he could to try to save the passengers' lives," Geller said.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.

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bruelkjaer May 12 2014 at 8:56 AM

Maybe balloning around power lines aint so smart ?

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davefromfwb1 May 12 2014 at 11:54 AM

Just wondering here.....this isn't the first balloon fire I've heard about....wouldn't you think they'd build fireproof baskets by now? They always make them out of wicker...I guess for lightness of the material...but it should be sprayed or made out of something that won't combust into a fireball. Just offering my two cents. Sorry this happened.

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3 replies
manfrombighorn May 12 2014 at 9:38 AM

Terrible tragedy. My condolences to the victims' families and friends.

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rosasturtles1 May 12 2014 at 1:01 PM

May they all rest in peace and God bring comfort to their families

Flag Reply +3 rate up
cindyzabawa May 12 2014 at 10:16 AM

Some of the people commenting on here make me laugh. Your idea of having a life is insulting others who are out living theirs. No shame in having adventures, try it, you may like it. A life wasted by sitting around spewing ugly comments about other people is what's sad, not someone dying who lived life to the fullest.

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1 reply
neilatnaps cindyzabawa May 12 2014 at 10:28 AM

I don't see how you can "laugh" at anything good or bad said

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ozalot May 12 2014 at 10:20 AM

Very sad, and such a horrible thing to have happend.RIP

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Chas May 12 2014 at 11:51 AM

There has to be some changes made. No one deserves to go like that.

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2 replies
rosasturtles1 Chas May 12 2014 at 1:29 PM

Yes they do

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1 reply
sherivale rosasturtles1 May 12 2014 at 1:50 PM

only to you

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mchlhobart Chas May 12 2014 at 2:13 PM

tis a risk taken when people choose to go up in a balloon. it was an accident. the only thing that needs to change is a bunch of people that constantly think everything has to be changed. how about just not flying into powerlines?

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tiea331 May 12 2014 at 10:47 AM

Im afaid of heights....will not fly and of course no balloning...this is the reason,,,cant even go up high on a ladder

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bryanmerrittper2 May 12 2014 at 10:50 AM

So sad. They need to stay far away from power lines to prevent this kind of tragedy. This is for certain not the first time a balloon has hit a power line and crashed. Being burned alive in a gondola too high to jump from without killing your self is a bad way to check out of this world if you ask me. Windy days power lines and hot air balloons don't mix well. Such a tragic loss of life that could have been prevented with some good old fashion common sense ......

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1 reply
str00ntz bryanmerrittper2 May 12 2014 at 11:18 AM

There are no directional controls on balloons, just up and down. When those things take off, they are at the mercy of wind direction. There are power lines *everywhere*. Hot air balloons will make great youtube videos with power lines as long as idiots decide to launch themselves in one.

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Chas May 12 2014 at 11:48 AM

Wow, that was truly horrible. A day out for fun should not be with-in 50 miles of high tension power lines. A little wind can send you to a place you'd rather not be. My heart filled prayers go out to there family and friends. I'm so, so sorry.

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