Hot Air Balloon crash in Arizona Leaves Four Dead and One Critically Injured
In a tragic incident that occurred early Sunday, a hot air balloon crashed into a field in south Arizona, resulting in the deaths of four people and leaving one person critically injured. The incident took place near the city of Eloy, approximately 50 miles northwest of Tucson. The balloon had just released eight skydivers when it suddenly plummeted to the ground with five people still inside.
Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney provided an update on the incident, stating that the skydivers were able to safely exit the balloon and complete their planned skydiving event. However, shortly thereafter, something catastrophic occurred with the balloon, causing it to crash to the ground. The exact cause of the crash is yet to be determined, and authorities are investigating if weather conditions played a role.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were both present at the scene on Sunday to investigate the accident. Police have identified the victims as Chayton Wiescholek, 28, from Union City, Michigan; Kaitlynn Bartrom, 28, from Andrews, Indiana; Atahan Kiliccote, 24, from Cupertino, California; and Cornelius van der Walt, 37, originally from South Africa, who was the pilot. A 23-year-old woman from Scottsdale, Arizona, named Valerie Stutterheim, remains in critical condition at a local hospital.
The hot air balloon was operated by Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides, a company based in Eloy. The operator has not yet commented on the incident. According to their website, the company was founded in 2017 and boasts a “perfect safety record.” They prioritize safety and do not fly in cases of marginal weather conditions.
Eloy Mayor Micah Powell expressed the community’s devastation, as Eloy is home to the world’s largest skydiving drop zone and has a vibrant skydiving community. The tragedy has deeply affected those involved in the sport, who live and breathe skydiving.
As the investigation progresses, authorities will release additional information about the incident. Our thoughts are with the victims and their families during this difficult time.
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