(Adds statement by University of Richmond, search suspended until daybreak, in paragraphs 11, 13-14)
By Eric M. Johnson
May 10 (Reuters) - Two people were killed and another was missing after a hot air balloon hit a power line and caught fire over Virginia during a festival as horrified witnesses watched from below, police said on Saturday.
Authorities conducted a search in the air and with more than 100 people on the ground for the third person who was in the balloon’s basket at the time of the Friday evening accident about 30 miles (50 km) north of Richmond.
“We still have not located the basket or the balloon. We do continue to keep finding debris and various items that would have been on the hot air balloon,” Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller told a news conference.
Witnesses posted photos online showing a balloon in mid-air with its basket engulfed in flames and a trail of smoke spilling into the sky.
Two explosions were heard coming from the aircraft, and the gondola separated from the balloon and fell, Geller said.
Witnesses reported hearing screams from those on board the balloon.
“They were just screaming for anybody to help them,” local resident Carrie Hager-Bradley told a local NBC affiliate.
Geller said there were eyewitness reports that two people were seen tumbling from the basket after the balloon caught fire, but that it was unclear if they fell or jumped.
Police have not identified the three victims.
Two other balloons had landed safely at a designated landing site before the accident with the third balloon, Geller said.
When the sun set, authorities suspended the search for the third person until daybreak on Sunday, Geller said. They had combed through a heavily wooded area with thick underbrush, measuring 3 miles (5 km) in length, she said.
Two women’s basketball officials at the University of Richmond were among the three people aboard the balloon, the university said in a statement.
They were associate head coach Ginny Doyle, a former basketball star at the University of Richmond who graduated in 1992, and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis, who was a championship swimmer at the school and graduated in 2011, the statement said.
Police could not confirm which of the three people on board the balloon was still missing and which two were confirmed dead.
More than 20 hot air balloon teams from across the United States were to take part at The Meadow Event Park in Caroline County. The Saturday and Sunday events were canceled.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating the accident. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson, Doina Chiacu and Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Marguerita Choy and Mohammad Zargham)