Coaches, pilot recalled following balloon crash

HANK KURZ Jr. ALAN SUDERMAN LARRY O'DELL Associated Press Published:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- One was the constant in Richmond women's basketball, the beloved assistant coach who had been on staff for 15 seasons, remaining through two coaching changes. The other was hardly out of college, always cheerful and willing to help.

Associate head coach Ginny Doyle, 44, and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis, 24, were killed Friday in a fiery hot-air balloon crash along with the pilot, Daniel T. Kirk, who had 20 years of flying experience and was affectionately known as "Capt. Kirk." The three were mourned Sunday by friends, family and colleagues alike.

"There's not a person in this business that doesn't see Ginny as just a light," Joanne Boyle, now the coach at Virginia, said of Doyle, who was on her staff with the Spiders from 2002-05. "She was just a light for other people, and when you talk about this business and the genuineness and caring about the kids and what's best for the student-athletes, she epitomized that."

The balloon was among 13 that lifted off Friday on a preview night for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival when it drifted into a power line, burst into flames and fell into a heavily wooded area about 25 miles north of Richmond.

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

State police spokesman Corinne Geller said another pilot interviewed by investigators described how the pilot tried to open vents to release extra-hot air in an attempt to keep the balloon from rising faster.

"Based on witness accounts, he did everything he could to try to save the passengers' lives," Geller said.

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