Hot Air Balloon Crash Claims Four Lives, Critically Injures One

( — The investigation into the tragic crash of a hot air balloon in Eloy, Arizona, on Sunday, January 14, is still ongoing, as the cause has not yet been determined. Eloy is about 65 miles outside of Phoenix and a well-known area for skydiving and hot air ballooning. Eloy Mayor Micah Powell describes the town of under 16.000 residents as a tight-knit skydiving community, adding that they have the world’s largest drop zone for skydivers.

The balloon rose with 13 adults onboard on Sunday morning, 8 of whom were skydivers, 4 who were passengers, and the operator, 37-year-old Cornelius van der Walt, who was an Eloy local originally from South Africa. After the eight skydivers successfully made their jumps, something went terribly wrong with the hot air balloon. The envelope, the hot air-filled balloon part of the craft, appeared “straight up and down,” and it crashed to the ground.

Of the five people still in the gondola, there was only one survivor, 23-year-old Valerie Stutterheim, who is being cared for at a trauma center and is still in critical condition. Of the remaining four, one died at the scene, and the others were taken to the hospital but did not survive. Now that the families have been notified, the local news has released the names of the people who died in the accident. The operator van der Walt died as well as three passengers: 28-year-old Kaitlynn Bartrom of Andrews, Indiana; 24-year-old Atahan Kiliccote of Cupertino, California; and 28-year-old Chayton Wiescholek of Union City, Michigan.

Local authorities are cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to discover the cause of the accident. According to the NTSB, the craft was an A-160 passenger balloon which is made by British hot air balloon manufacturer Cameron Balloons. Their A-type models come in a variety of sizes and have different carrying capacities. The A-160 is apparently meant for 6 or 7 passengers and the pilot. However, the cause of the catastrophic accident is still not yet known.

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