Hot Air Balloon Kills Four

( – A hot air balloon in Eloy, Arizona crashed recently, claiming four lives.

The victims were identified as 28-year-old Union, Michigan native Chayton Wiescholek; 28-year-old Andrews, Indiana resident Kaitlynn Bartrom; Cupertino, California resident, 24-year-old Atahan Kiliccote, and 37-year old Cornelius Van Der Walt. Van Der Walt was the pilot of the balloon, lived in Eloy, but was originally from South Africa.

There were several others also in the balloon, but were skydivers and had jumped out before the balloon crashed. Valerie Stutterheim, a 23-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, was also a passenger on the balloon when it crashed, but has survived. She is still in critical condition in a hospital as of press time. Rescue and first responders were able to bring three of the fatalities to the hospital before they expired, and the fourth was declared dead on the scene of the incident.

The balloon crashed in a deserted desert section of Eloy, which lies around 65 miles away from Phoenix.

The cause for the crash is still unknown and is currently under investigation. The matter is being looked into by the Eloy Police Department as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Initial findings point to a malfunction in the balloon’s envelope, which caused it to fall to the ground. However, NTSB initial investigation has revealed no abnormalities or malfunctions in the balloon. Investigators also found an “electronic device” that could contain “relevant flight information” and has sent it to NTSB headquarters for further analysis.

Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides was cited as the operator for the ill-fated balloon.

This has not been the first time a hot air balloon ride has gone awry – in Mexico City earlier this year, two people died after their balloon burst into flames. In 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a hot air balloon crashed into power lines, causing the deaths of five people.

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