ELOY, Ariz. – A tragic hot air balloon crash in Arizona has claimed the life of a Bay Area man.
The incident occurred on January 14, 2024, at approximately 7:50 a.m. in Eloy, a rural desert area located about 60 miles from Phoenix.
According to the Elroy Police Department, the ill-fated balloon was operated by Droplyne Hot Air Ballon Rides and was carrying a total of 13 people. The passengers included eight skydivers, four additional passengers, and the pilot.
Eyewitnesses reported that the skydivers were able to safely exit the balloon and complete their jumps before tragedy struck. Suddenly, a catastrophic event occurred, causing the balloon to crash to the ground.
The crash resulted in the loss of four lives. One victim died at the scene, while three others succumbed to their injuries at a local hospital. A fifth individual remains in critical condition.
The victims have now been identified as Atahan Kiliccote, a 24-year-old resident of Cupertino, California; Kaitlynn Bartrom, 28, from Andrews, Indiana; Chayton Wiescholek, 28, hailing from Union City, Michigan; and 37-year-old Cornelius Van Der Walt, originally from South Africa but residing in Eloy.
Crash site of a deadly hot air balloon crash in Eloy, Arizona on Jan. 14, 2024 (Photos courtesy of Fox 10 Phoenix)
Authorities have confirmed that Cornelius Van Der Walt was the pilot of the ill-fated hot air balloon.
The fifth victim, identified as 23-year-old Valerie Stutterheim from Scottsdale, remains in critical condition.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation. The Eloy Police Department is actively collaborating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine the circumstances that led to this tragic incident.