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Power lines set balloon ablaze

A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the hot air balloon involved in the fatal crash May 9 in Caroline County was destroyed by fire after striking a power line while attempting to land.

The report, released Tuesday, said there was “no flight plan filed for the local personal flight that departed from the Meadow Event Park,” which was hosting the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival.

“Multiple eyewitnesses reported that the accident balloon approached a field from the south where another balloon had just landed,” the report said. “As the accident balloon approached the landing site, the pilot engaged the burner; however, the balloon struck power lines, 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 balloon pilot, Daniel T. Kirk, and two passengers, Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis, died as a result of their injuries from the crash, an autopsy determined.

Multiple items were discovered along the balloon’s debris path, which stretched approximately 1.75 miles long.

Three cellphones and a GPS system were among the personal items found during the search of the crash site, the report said. Two stainless steel propane fuel tanks, a handheld fire extinguisher, the instrument panel and various pieces of the charred 78,133-cubic-foot envelope fabric, associated with the lower portion of the balloon envelope, were also recovered along the debris path.

The National Transportation Safety Board reported that the balloon crown, crown ring, deflation port, the burner and two other propane fuel tanks were not found.

The Eagle C–7 Balloon, N3016Z, also called “Starship” by its pilot, was last inspected on Aug. 5, 2013, and had accumulated 270.4 hours of flight time.

Kirk, according to his ballooning company website, had more than 30 years of ballooning experience and won many national and state ballooning competitions. He also retired from the U.S. Army.

Doyle and Lewis were key staff members of the University of Richmond women’s basketball department. Doyle was the associate head coach, and Lewis was the director of operations.

The power lines struck were typical rural distribution lines located just outside the Caroline Pines subdivision off Ruther Glen Road in Caroline, said Ann Lewis, spokeswoman for the Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, which owns the lines.

She said while residents in the surrounding area did temporarily lose power, there was no damage to the lines that she was aware of.

Lewis said REC builds its lines to the standards and specifications of the National Electrical Safety Code and that they have been assisting authorities in the ongoing investigation.

Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419


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