NTSB issues brief on fatal hot-air balloon crash

Brief confirms that the downed balloon struck power lines before catching fire.

Update #6 — May 20, 2014; 2:00 PM

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an investigative brief on the balloon crash at the recent Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival (see below).

The full report from the NTSB will come at a later date.

Here’s the NTSB brief:

On May 9, 2014, about 1940 eastern daylight time, an Eagle C-7 Balloon, N3016Z, was destroyed by fire after a landing attempt to a field and subsequent impact with powerlines near Ruther Glen, Virginia. The commercial pilot and two passengers were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight that departed from Meadow Event Park, Doswell, Virginia, approximately 3.75 miles to the south of the accident location. The flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

Multiple eyewitnesses reported that the accident balloon approached a field from the south where another balloon had just landed. As the accident balloon approached the landing site, the pilot engaged the burner; however, the balloon struck powerlines, 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.

The debris path was approximately 1.75 miles in length and was oriented on a 025 degree heading from the attempted landing field. 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. 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.

The balloon was equipped with four propane tanks, a wicker basket, and a 78,133 cubic foot envelope. The most recent annual inspection on the balloon was performed on August 5, 2013, and at that time it had accumulated 270.4 hours of total time.

A Garmin 12 handheld global positioning system and three cellular phones were located, removed, and sent to the NTSB Recorder Laboratory for download.

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Update #5 — May 12, 2014; 8:15 AM

State Police have found the remains of the third occupant of the balloon. From NBC12:

State police said the search for remains began again early Sunday morning, as more than 100 personnel from Virginia State Police, the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office, Caroline County Fire & Rescue, Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Civil Air Patrol, and multiple search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the area near the Caroline Pines subdivision.

At about 11:00 AM, Sunday, the remains of the third occupant were discovered. This discovery was approximately 100 yards north of where the second occupant was found Saturday, authorities said.

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Update #4 — May 11, 2014; 8:54 AM

The University of Richmond has announced that two of the balloon’s passengers were members of the University of Richmond women’s basketball coaching staff: Associate Head Coach Ginny Doyle and Director of Basketball Operations Natalie Lewis.

The full release from University of Richmond:

The University of Richmond community extends its prayers and thoughts to the families of two members of the women’s basketball staff who were aboard a balloon that crashed May 9 in Caroline County, Va.

Ginny Doyle, associate head women’s basketball coach, and Natalie Lewis, director of basketball operations, were on the balloon that crashed shortly before 8 p.m. Virginia State Police have recovered two of the balloon’s three occupants. Official identification is pending from the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“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,” said President Edward L. Ayers. “Their leadership and friendship will endure in the lives of so many.”

“Words cannot begin to express our sorrow,” said Keith Gill, director of athletics. “We are all stunned by the tragic news. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their loved ones.”

Doyle, a former Richmond basketball standout who graduated in 1992, has served on the Spiders’ staff for 16 years. During her tenure at Richmond, she helped guide the Spiders to nine winning seasons, an at-large berth to the 2005 NCAA Tournament, five consecutive postseason appearances and a first-ever appearance in the Atlantic 10 Championship final in 2009.

As a student-athlete, Doyle was a two-time all-conference player, leading the Spiders to the 1991 CAA Championship and NCAA Tournament. She is the program’s career leader in free throw percentage and set the NCAA Division I record for consecutive free throws made with 66, a mark that stood for 18 years.

Lewis graduated from Richmond in 2011 and began her professional career with Spider Athletics in 2012. She has been with the women’s basketball program for the past two seasons. As an undergraduate, Lewis was a championship swimmer and four-year varsity letter winner at Richmond, serving twice as team captain. She was on three Atlantic 10 swimming championship teams. She also was a student government cabinet member and graduated as a Spider Scholar Athlete.

The university has arranged access to counselors to assist faculty, staff and students following this tragic accident.

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Update #3 — May 10, 2014; 12:45 PM

Around 11:00 AM this morning, Virginia State Police located the body of a second occupant of the balloon. Crews–over 100 ground personnel–continue to search the area for the balloon, gondola, and the third occupant.

Police have not released the identity of the victims and will wait for a positive identification from the medical examiner.

The Virginia State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Transportation Safety Bureau are all leading investigations into the accident.

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Update #2 — May 10, 2014; 8:55 AM

Virginia State Police have confirmed that the balloon, carrying three individuals, struck a power line while attempting to land and caught fire. As the pilot attempted safety maneuvers, the balloon began to rise rapidly and the gondola and balloon separated. Witnesses reported hearing two explosions.

While police have not found the two wreckage sites–of both the gondola and balloon–they did locate the remains of one of the passengers shortly after midnight. A larger, ground-based police force will conduct a grid search for the remaining two occupants today.

Because police have not yet made contact with the passengers since the accident, they are transition from a rescue operation to a recovery operation.

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Update #1 — May 9, 2014; 10:10 PM

The Virginia State Police confirmed that at 7:56 PM on Friday they received a report that a hot-air balloon participating in the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival caught fire. As of 10:00 PM they had found no wreckage and had no confirmation of either injury or death.

Based on unconfirmed witness accounts, police believe the balloon, carrying the pilot and at least two individuals, crashed near Ruther Glen Road near Doswell.

Multiple troopers are on the ground, and the search for wreckage and any possible victims will continue through the night. The FAA is also on the scene as a hot-air balloon is considered an aircraft.

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Original — May 09, 2014

During tonight’s inaugural Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival one of the balloons has caught fire. At this point the balloon and its passengers are unaccounted for.

More as it develops.

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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

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