Balloon Crash: College B-ball Program Loses 2

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A second body has been recovered in a heavily wooded area following a fiery hot air balloon crash that occurred in Virginia Friday, after the balloon drifted into power lines.

"We are now transitioning from a rescue operation to a recovery operation at this time," said Virginia State Police Spokeswoman Corinne Geller. "Now that we have daybreak, we're hoping this will definitely expedite the search process."

More than 100 searchers continue to hunt for a third victim.

None of the victims has been identified, however CNN reports two of the victims were members of the University of Richmond's women's basketball program.

The balloon apparently drifted into a power line Friday night, burst into flames and crashed, with the occupants screaming for help.

Eyewitness accounts report that two occupants either fell or jumped from the burning balloon after it struck the power line, according to a Virginia state police report.

“Based on witness accounts, the pilot attempted to regain control of the balloon and manage the fire. At one point, the balloon’s two passengers leapt from the basket/gondola. Then witnesses recall hearing an explosion and the fire continued to spread. The gondola and the balloon then separated," said the report.

Carrie Hager-Bradley said she was on her way home from the grocery when she saw the balloon in flames and heard screaming, according to WWBT TV.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," she said. "'Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help. I'm going to die. Oh my God, I'm going to die,'" Hager-Bradley said she heard someone scream.

Donnell Ferguson said he was cutting grass when he saw the balloon passing by.

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

Twenty balloonists from the Mid-Atlantic region were to participate in the weekend Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival before the event was canceled after the tragedy, said spokesman Greg Hicks.

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

Nancy Johnson — another eyewitness — said the crash occurred very quickly.

"One minute the balloons were hovering in field behind Event Park, the next everyone is pointing at sky," she wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "The crowd went silent in shock. Very sad night."

Some of the hot air balloons landed safely in Debra Ferguson's yard, The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg reported.

She said 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."

Caroline County resident Paula Dustin said she and her family and a friend were watching the balloons take off when they saw one in the distance that appeared to be glowing.

"We saw a glow, and you could tell the bottom of the balloon was in flames," said Dustin.

Image via YouTube

Pam Wright

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