Reports say the balloon was piloted by Daniel T. Kirk, a 20-year veteran working for Starship Adventures, and carried two female passengers, Ginny Doyle and Natalie Lewis. Witnesses say the balloon drifted into power lines before bursting into flames.
Rescue crews had to search a densely wooded area to locate the victims’ bodies. Authorities believe the two passengers either jumped from the balloon or fell from the basket.
The fatal balloon accident was part of a preview night for the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival in Meadow Event Park.
An article in USA Today from February 26, 2013 highlights the rarity of the hot air balloon accidents. Since 1964, the National Transportation Safety Board has recorded 760 hot air balloon accidents in the U.S. and two overseas. Of those 760 U.S. accidents, 67 have been fatal.
Hot air balloons are manufactured to standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Additionally, commercial hot air balloons are inspected after 100 hours of flight or at least once a year. Pilots must undergo extensive training and be licensed to operate balloons and undergo a flight review every two years.