RUTHER GLEN, Va. (WTVR) – Two stainless steel propane fuel tanks, a hand-held fire extinguisher, the instrument panel and various pieces of burned balloon were found along the 1.75 mile debris path created when a hot air balloon came in contact with powerlines while it attempted to land in a field at the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival earlier this month.
The National Transportation Safety Board has released its preliminary report into the May 9 incident that claimed the lives of three people.
“Multiple eyewitnesses reported that the accident balloon approached a field from the south where another balloon had just landed,” NTSB investigators noted. “As the accident balloon approached the landing site, the pilot engaged the burner; however, the balloon struck powerlines, 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 report indicated.
Investigators said while the propane fuel tanks were intact, they appeared burned and damaged. They noted the balloon crown, crown ring, deflation port, burner, and two other propane fuel tanks have not yet been recovered.
“The most recent annual inspection on the balloon was performed on August 5, 2013, and at that time it had accumulated 270.4 hours of total time,” investigators said. “A Garmin 12 handheld global positioning system and three cellular phones were located, removed, and sent to the NTSB Recorder Laboratory for download.”
University of Richmond women’s basketball staffers Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis were passengers in the balloon and were killed in the fire and crash. Balloon pilot Dan Kirk was also killed.
The NTSB noted the report filed Tuesday was based on preliminary information and any errors would be corrected when the final report was completed.
This is a developing story.