Nardin community remembers grad killed in hot air balloon crash

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Inside the gymnasium at Nardin Academy High School, Natalie Lewis is immortalized as a record-holder in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle races for the swim team.

“She would almost fly through the water. I just have never seen someone that fast,” said Principal Rebecca Reeder.

She got to know Lewis during her high school years. She says Lewis, who graduated in 2007, was a great student, an outstanding athlete, and most importantly – a good person.

“She was so enthusiastic, so full of life. Warm and welcoming to everybody. She was always involved in something and everyone got to know her,” Reeder said. “She used that talent to teach other kids and do things with them, so that’s what you always want to see from someone who has such a gift.”

Reeder, like the rest of the staff at Nardin, was heartbroken to learn of the 24-year-old woman’s death in a tragic hot air balloon crash in Virginia last Friday.

RELATED | Just one month before this tragic accident, the NTSB called on the FAA to step up regulatory oversight of hot air balloons

“Most of the veteran teachers here knew her, and it’s been a very tough day for them,” she said.

Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe says the balloon was flying low, and the power line the pilot hit was not on the map handed to pilots before they lifted off. After the basket hit the power lines, it caught fire. Lewis and two others on board were killed.

RELATED | A local hot air balloon expert calls accidents rare, saying you’re more likely to be injured or killed in a plane crash

Lewis was living in Richmond, where she was an administrator for the University of Richmond women’s basketball program. She was engaged to be married to Canisius High School grad Michael Dougher.

“Very important for us as a community of faith to come together today, to pray at a time of loss,” said Father Fred Betti, S.J., Canisius High School campus minister. “Because it was so far away just trying to grasp the immensity of the tragedy and what it meant was very difficult and that’s why it’s important for us to turn to our faith.”

Cansius and Nardin held memorial services for Lewis. When her family returns from Virginia, Nardin officials will talk to them about a way to permanently memorialize her at the school.

Although she hasn’t spoken publicly since Friday’s fiery crash, Natalie’s mother, Trish, has been tweeting. In one tweet, she noted, “I have never felt closer to my husband. By my side. In good times and in bad. Love conquers all.”

The family did released a statement, saying:

We are saddened by the loss of our Natalie. Natalie was devoted to her faith, her family and her fiancé Michael Dougher. She was our thoughtful, affectionate, beautiful daughter and sister. She was most excited to share her future loving Michael.

Natalie loved people. She was our constant source of happiness and joy. She used genuine words and selfless actions to gently help others be more successful and more fulfilled.

Natalie was proud of her hometown of Buffalo and loyal to the University of Richmond. She was the consummate classmate, teammate, leader, teacher, co-worker and dearest friend.

We would like to thank you for your support, prayers and love during this difficult time. We also would like to thank the Virginia State Police and the University of Richmond for their assistance and support in Richmond.

Her laugh, her hugs and her smile were timeless. She inspired all of us to be better people and that will never fade. Natalie’s spirit will surely endure in each of us.

Virginia State Police tell News 4 they are still looking for the balloon and basket. They are waiting for the medical examiner’s report to come in, as the NTSB takes control of the investigation.

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