Four Dead, One Critical in Arizona Hot Air Balloon Crash

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On the morning of Sunday, January 14, 2023, a hot air balloon crash in Eloy, Arizona, resulted in four fatalities and one critical injury.

The crash took place at roughly 7:50 a.m. in a desert region to the east of Sunshine Boulevard and Hanna Road.

The hot air balloon, carrying 13 adults comprised of a pilot, four passengers, and eight skydivers, experienced a catastrophic failure after the skydivers had successfully disembarked for their planned jump.

One passenger lost their life at the scene of the crash, while three others succumbed to their injuries in the hospital.

The deceased passengers were identified as 28-year-old Chayton Wiescholek from Union City, Michigan; Kaitlynn Bartom, 28, from Andrews, Indiana; and Atahan Kiliccote, 24, from Cupertino, California. The 37-year-old pilot, Cornelius Van Der Walt, was also among the fatalities, as confirmed by the police.

Valerie Stutterheim, a 23-year-old passenger from Scottsdale, Arizona, survived the crash and is in critical condition.

Eloy is a small town of just over 15,000 residents, located approximately 65 miles southeast of Phoenix. The town is known for its extensive skydiving community and is often referred to as “the skydiving capital of the world.”

The hot air balloon, identified by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as a Cameron Balloons A160 aircraft, suffered a critical failure in its envelope, the fabric that makes up the balloon, resulting in a crash in the desert terrain.

An eyewitness reported seeing the balloon deflated and plummeting directly towards the ground.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the NTSB have started a detailed investigation into the cause of the crash. The wrecked balloon will be transported to a secure facility for further examination.

In an email, the Eloy Police Department confirmed that all individuals on board were adults. Additional details are being withheld pending the investigation’s outcome.

They issued a statement expressing their profound regret over the four deaths and the critically injured individual, thanking the community for their support and understanding during this tragic event.

On the morning of the accident, the weather was clear and cold with temperatures in the mid-30s.

The investigation into the cause of the crash continues, with the NTSB and FAA spearheading the efforts.

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