EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

World/National News

May 11, 2014

Athletic staffer was on Va. hot air balloon

DOSWELL, Va. (AP) — A University of Richmond women’s basketball team staff member was one of three occupants on a hot air balloon that drifted into a power line, burst into flames and crashed in Virginia, her family said Saturday.

The body of Natalie Lewis has not been found, family spokeswoman Julie Snyder told The Associated Press. The remains of the pilot and the other passenger, whom authorities haven’t identified, were found just under a mile apart in densely wooded areas.

More than 100 searchers spent the day scouring the woods and fields around the crash site for the third victim and any remnants of the balloon, police said. The search was being scaled back as darkness approached but was set to resume Sunday.

“The search continues for our beloved daughter and we remain hopeful and ask for your continued prayers,” Lewis’s parents, Patricia and Evan Lewis, said in a statement.

However, state police have described their search as an operation to recover remains.

Snyder called Lewis “an amazing persona and a strong persona, an athlete engaged to be married.”

Lewis just completed her second year as director of basketball operations for the Richmond women’s basketball program, according to a profile on the university’s website. The Buffalo, N.Y., native was a four-year letter winner and two-time captain of the Spiders’ swim team.

The university canceled two weekend baseball games and held a moment of silence at yesterday’s commencement without saying why.

Witnesses described a harrowing sight on the special preview night for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, which was set to open yesterday. The festival was canceled. About 740 people attended the preview event.

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

The balloon was among 13 that lifted off Friday night from Meadow Event Park, home to the State Fair of Virginia, and was approaching a landing site nearby. Two of the balloons landed safely before the third hit the live power line, according to police.

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