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3 Dead After Hot Air Balloon Catches Fire In Virginia

(This post was updated at 3:04 p.m. ET. on Sunday, May 11)

Three people after a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed near Doswell, Va., on Friday night.

The family has identified the missing woman as Natalie Lewis, a University of Richmond women's basketball team staff member, according to the Associated Press.

During a televised press conference on Saturday, Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the operation had now transitioned into a recovery effort.

Geller said three hot air balloons took off at the same time. Two of them landed safely and one of them hit a power line while descending. The basket part caught fire.

WWBT-TV reports:

"Carrie Hager-Bradley was on her way home from the grocery store and saw the balloon on fire. She told NBC12's Curt Autry she could hear cries from the people onboard.

" 'They were just screaming for anybody to help them. "Help me, help me, sweet Jesus, help, I'm going to die — oh my God, I'm going to die," ' Hager-Bradley told NBC12.

"Hager-Bradley went on to say her daughter witnessed what appeared to be one occupant of the balloon fall to the ground."

The balloons were scheduled to be part of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, but organizers said because of the accident, the rest of the festival was canceled.

Geller said both the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration are conducting investigations.

Update at 3:05 p.m. ET. on Sunday May 11: Three Dead:

Police have found three bodies, the male pilot and two female passengers.

"Virginia State Police and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators are now concentrating on locating the balloon wreckage and evidence collection," Virginia State Police spokesperson Corinne N. Geller said in a statement.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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