Two bodies have been recovered Saturday after a hot-air balloon carrying three people burst into flames and crashed in Virginia Friday night, on the eve of an inaugural balloon festival in Doswell, prompting a recovery mission for the one still missing and the wreckage.
The bodies were found in a heavily wooded area, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller reportedly said Saturday. Officials searched for the pilot and two passengers after the balloon "apparently hit a power line and caught fire" in Doswell, about 30 miles north of Richmond, media reports said, citing Federal Aviation Administration. The apparent crash happened somewhere northeast of Meadow Event Park in Caroline County, site of the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, according to the media reports. The state police reportedly said that eyewitnesses had reported that the balloon was in flames and they heard screams for help. The balloon festival organizers said that the search for the wreckage had been hindered by bad weather.
"State police report that bad weather elsewhere in the Richmond vicinity has grounded air search for the time being," organizers wrote on the website.
Virginia State Police said at a press conference late Friday that the gondola caught fire and the hot-air balloon did crash shortly before 8 p.m. EDT, according to WTVR. The gondola carrying the three has not been found.
A spokeswoman for the state police reportedly said they have been actively searching but no wreckage has been found so far. Rescuers are reportedly searching at two possible sites, while severe storms rolling through could complicate the search.
“It was very sudden,” Nancy Johnson, a witness, told the Los Angeles Times via Instagram. “One minute, they were hovering in field. The next, everyone was pointing at the sky ... All went quiet.”
The festival was scheduled to begin officially on Saturday, but was holding a special kickoff event Friday for a limited number of people. The organizers have reportedly canceled the remainder of the events through Sunday.
The Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival wrote in a statement posted on its Facebook page: “A ground search is currently under way involving [Virginia state police], the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as Caroline and Henrico County law enforcement and EMS personnel.”