Ruther Glen neighbors still stunned after witnessing ill-fated balloon strike wire

Posted at 1:17 AM, May 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 01:17:37-04

RUTHER GLEN, Va. (WTVR) --A lot of people following the tragic balloon story wanted to know exactly where the balloon hit the power lines and what led up to it.

Monday night, eyewitnesses shed light on all of that and more.

A small mark near a well in Daniel Cooper’s yard is from a gondola basket that touched down in his yard.   He says another balloon landed next to a camper in the woods about 100 yards away.  But he says the most horrific scene played out at the foot of his driveway

Cooper didn't want to go on television but told me his wife has video of Natalie Lewis, Ginny Doyle and Captain Daniel Kirk seconds before their balloon hit a wire off Ruther Glen Road.

"The balloon came down just past that hedge row," he said, pointing out the shrubs a short distance away.

Neighbor Thomas Crampton also looked on from across the field.  Both men say the balloon and basket tipped at a 45 degree angle before straightening up. The power lines arced, a transformer blew, and then the power went out.

"It went out at 7:35," Iva Luck said.

Crampton says the pilot leaned back as the balloon began to burn.  "There was a bunch of blue flashes between the metal rods the basket was attached to," he said.

The hot air balloon sailed off high and steady between the trees over Crampton’s barn.  He says he never saw anything fall, but acknowledges after it caught fire, he had a hard time looking on.

Sources say burning debris from that balloon started a small brush fire through the woods off Brownstone Road.  That’s where troopers eventually recovered one body. The other two on the flight were found Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon.

Those discoveries delivered a resounding blow to those like 78-year-old Iva Luck, who was hoping they'd be found alive.

"I just sat there and watched and prayed that they'd be ok," Luck said.

Cooper has shared his wife’s video with Virginia State Police, and told me if the victims’ families wanted to see it for closure, he would certainly share it with them.