Four people have tragically lost their lives and one individual is in critical condition following a hot air balloon crash in south Arizona on Sunday. The incident occurred near the city of Eloy, located approximately 50 miles northwest of Tucson. The balloon had just released eight skydivers when it suddenly plummeted to the ground, leaving five people inside. Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney addressed reporters on Sunday, stating that the skydivers were able to safely exit the balloon and complete their planned event before the catastrophic crash occurred.
The cause of the crash, which took place around 8 a.m., remains unknown at this time. Gwaltney has not ruled out the possibility of weather conditions playing a role. Both the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were present at the scene on Sunday to investigate the accident.
According to police, three of the individuals who lost their lives were passengers who had no intention of skydiving. The fourth victim was the pilot of the balloon. The deceased have been identified 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, a South Africa native who resided in Eloy.
Valerie Stutterheim, a 23-year-old woman from Scottsdale, Arizona, remains hospitalized in critical condition as of Monday.
The balloon was operated by Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides, a company based in Eloy. Despite attempts to contact the company for comment, no response was received. Droplyne’s website claims to have a perfect safety record and emphasizes their commitment to safety during marginal weather conditions.
Eloy Mayor Micah Powell expressed his condolences and acknowledged the impact of the tragedy on the local skydiving community. Eloy is known for having the world’s largest skydiving drop zone and is home to a vibrant skydiving community.
As the investigation continues, authorities will release additional information as it becomes available. Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones during this difficult time..