Four individuals lost their lives, and a fifth is in critical condition following a hot air balloon crash on Sunday morning in Pinal County.
Eloy police reported that the incident occurred around 7:30 a.m. in a rural desert area approximately five miles north of the town.
The mayor of Eloy mentioned that there were a total of 13 people on board, including eight skydivers, four passengers, and a pilot.
The balloon was operated by Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides. Prior to the crash, the skydivers had exited the gondola. Witnesses recounted that the balloon was in a vertical position before experiencing a forceful impact.
A single individual was declared deceased at the scene, with the remaining three succumbing to their injuries at a hospital. Another person is currently in critical condition at a hospital in the Valley.
Eloy police have identified the four individuals who lost their lives as:
- Chayton Wiescholek, 28, from Union City, Michigan
- Kaitlynn “Katie” Bartrom, 28, from Andrews, Indiana
- Atahan Kiliccote, 24, from Cupertino, California
- Cornelius Van Der Walt, 37, originally from South Africa, residing in Eloy, AZ, and identified as the pilot
A 23-year-old Valerie Stutterheim from Scottsdale is currently in critical condition.
The family of 28-year-old Katie Bartrom informed Channel 3 NOW that she was a registered nurse from Indiana.
Jennifer Hubartt, Bartrom’s mother, shared that her daughter had a passion for skydiving and adventure. Describing the atmosphere at home, Hubartt expressed, “It’s kind of somber here. We’re intermittently crying and discussing her, still grappling with the reality.”
She added, “She was a beautiful person, recently becoming an RN and establishing independence.”
Collaborating with federal agencies such as the NTSB and FAA, Eloy police are conducting an investigation into the crash.
According to NTSB officials, the balloon descended following an unspecified issue with its envelope.
The circumstances surrounding this incident are still being examined.
This is a developing story that will be updated when more information is available.