Two dead, one missing after hot air balloon catches fire in Virginia

Eric M. Johnson
A hot air balloon on fire is pictured north of Richmond
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A hot air balloon on fire is pictured north of Richmond, Virginia, May 9, 2014, in this handout photo courtesy of Lynn Shultz. At least one person died and two were missing after the hot air balloon hit a power line and caught fire over Virginia during a festival, police said on Saturday. Authorities said they had found the remains of one person, and were continuing to search for the others missing after the Friday evening accident 30 miles north of Richmond. Mandatory Credit. REUTERS/Lynn Shultz/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: DISASTER SOCIETY TRANSPORT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) ATTENTION EDITORS - NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY. MANDATORY CREDIT

By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) - Two people were killed and another was missing after a hot air balloon hit a power line and caught fire over Virginia during a festival, as horrified witnesses watched from below, police said on Saturday.

Authorities conducted a search in the air and with more than 100 people on the ground for the third person who was in the balloon's basket at the time of the Friday evening accident about 30 miles north of Richmond.

"We still have not located the basket or the balloon. We do continue to keep finding debris and various items that would have been on the hot air balloon," Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told a televised news conference.

Witnesses posted photos online showing a balloon in mid-air with its basket engulfed in flames and a trail of smoke spilling into the sky.

There appeared to have been an explosion as the balloon hit the line and then separated from the basket carrying the passengers. Witnesses reported hearing screams from those on board the balloon.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," local resident Carrie Hager-Bradley told a local NBC affiliate.

Geller said there were eyewitness reports that two people were seen tumbling from the basket after the balloon caught fire, but said it was unclear if they fell or jumped.

Authorities have not identified the three victims.

Two other balloons had landed safely at a designated landing site before the accident with the third balloon, Geller said.

The Washington Post reported two women's basketball officials at the University of Richmond were among the three people killed in the incident.

They were associate head coach Ginny Doyle, 44, and Natalie Lewis, the director of basketball operations, the newspaper reported, citing a sister of Doyle and a person who had family members at the balloon festival.

A representative from the University of Richmond did not return calls.

More than 20 hot air balloon teams from across the United States were to take part at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County. The Saturday and Sunday events were canceled.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating the accident.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson, Doina Chiacu and Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Marguerita Choy)