2 bodies found after US hot air balloon fire

WASHINGTON - Dozens of US workers searched Saturday for the third occupant of a hot air balloon that went up in flames after hitting a power line in Virginia, killing two other people aboard.

The balloon burst into flames late Friday and crashed near the state capital Richmond as it made its descent into a pre-designated field.

Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said the two bodies were found about 1,500 yards (meters) apart in a heavily wooded area.

She declined to name the victims until the medical examiner positively identifies them.

The Meadow Event Park, which hosted the Mid-Atlantic Balloon Festival, has since cancelled the event.

"The staff of The Meadow Event Park continues to offer our support and prayers for all those affected by the May 9 hot air balloon accident in Caroline County," it said on its website.

The park is establishing a fund to benefit the families of those involved in the accident and plans to refund advance ticket sales.

"We spent all night searching for the wreckage of the basket, the balloon," Geller told an earlier news conference. "It was just before midnight that we were able to locate one of the occupants."

Searchers located a "debris site" where they found items that would have been in the balloon, she added.

Witnesses watched as the balloon caught fire in the evening sky after hitting a power line as it was coming down to Earth. They said they heard screams from the balloon's occupants.

"They were just screaming for anybody to help them," Carrie Hager-Bradley told a local NBC television affiliate.

The pilot, who was seen struggling to manage the situation and extinguish the fire, opened up the top of the balloon so it would not rise with the heat.

"The witnesses heard an explosion and after that, the basket and the balloon actually separated," Geller said.

The balloon was one of three that launched at 8:00 pm Friday (2400 GMT) from Meadow Event Park in Doswell, Virginia. The other two landed before it without incident.