Mass to take place for victims of hot air balloon crash

DOSWELL, VA (AP Modified) – Canisius High School will host a special mass at 7:45 a.m. Monday for the victims of Friday’s hot air balloon crash in Virginia.

State Police found the body of Buffalo native Natalie Lewis Sunday. The Nardin Academy graduate along with the pilot and another passenger were killed when the balloon they were in drifted into a power line, burst into flames and fell into a heavily wooded area about 25 miles north of Richmond.

Lewis’ brother graduated from Canisius High School in 2006.

State police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the searchers found the body at 11 a.m. Sunday. The two other passengers had previously been found.

Police have not released the victims’ names, but family members and the University of Richmond said associate head coach Ginny Doyle and director of basketball operations Natalie Lewis were passengers. Veteran hot air balloon pilot Daniel T. Kirk was at the controls.

“Just shock, I really was shocked. Its’ never something you think could happen to someone that age and just that kind of person,” said Scott Vanderzell, Natalie Lewis’s swim coach with the Tonawanda Titans. He says it was in her nature to do things like take a hot air balloon ride. “She was a fun person who just liked to do things.”

Natalie set records for swimming at Nardin Academy before continuing her career at University of Richmond. Vanderzell says Natalie was always a role model for other swimmers, with a positive and hardworking personality. “A very infectious smile that would just get her teammates going and just keep everybody having fun.”

Natalie was one of 3 people inside the hot air balloon that started on fire. “All we seen was just stuff falling from the sky, the basket, the balloon, everything was on fire and I said ‘Oh please god tell me there’s not anybody in there’.”

After graduating, Natalie had become director of basketball operations at University of Richmond. She was on board with her colleague Ginny Doyle Friday night. The hot air balloon was getting ready to land when it hit a power line and started on fire. Carrie Bradley witnessed the horrific sight and says she saw two people jump out of the basket. “You could hear them screaming ‘please dear god, sweet Jesus, help us, we’re going to die. Oh my god, please help us, please help us,” said Bradley.

The family of WNY native Natalie Lewis released the following statement Sunday afternoon:

Natalie with siblings Evan Jr. and Caroline on left. Father Evan, Sr. and Mother Patricia Lewis on right
Natalie with siblings Evan Jr. and Caroline on left. Father Evan, Sr. and Mother Patricia Lewis on right

“We are stunned and saddened beyond any understanding over what has happened to our beloved Natalie.

We would like to thank everyone, particularly the Virginia State Police who worked tirelessly in the search and recovery process.  They have been thoroughly professional and very comforting to us. Natalie’s University of Richmond family has surrounded us as well during these difficult days.

The people of Buffalo, New York, Natalie’s hometown, have provided prayers, support and love.  We have felt this from so many miles away over the past two days.

Natalie’s life was full of blessings, reflected by her unwavering and steadfast Catholic faith.  But, in so many ways,  her life was just beginning. She was engaged to marry the love of her life, Michael Dougher, and we now include him as another son in our grieving family.

Natalie Lewis
Natalie and fiancé Michael Dougher

It has been extremely difficult to deal with this tragedy, but our faith, our family, and our friends all give us strength.  Thank you for continued your prayers.”

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