8 skydivers jump off hot air balloon before plunge kills four aboard, officials say

A hot air balloon plunged to the ground, killing four riders and critically injuring a fifth, after eight skydivers jumped out, Arizona officials reported.

The crash took place at 7:50 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, in the desert near Eloy, police said in a news release. Emergency crews found four people dead and one critically injured.

The balloon crashed after eight skydivers had jumped off as planned, Mayor Micah Powell of Eloy told CNN.

“It is important to clarify that the skydiving was intentional and was successfully completed by all skydivers before any issues with the hot air balloon were evident,” police said.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, police said.

Mom Jennifer Hubartt identified 28-year-old Katie Bartrom, a registered nurse from Indiana, as one of the dead, KNXV reported.

“It’s kind of somber here at home. We’re crying about her on and off and talking about her on and off still trying to make it real,” Hubartt told the station. “She was a beautiful person, she recently became an RN and was making it on her own.”

On Monday, Jan. 15, police identified the others killed in the crash as Chayton Wiescholek, 28, of Union City, Michigan, Atahan Kiliccote, 24, of Cupertino, California and Cornelius Van Der Walt, 37, of Eloy, who was the pilot.

Valerie Stutterheim, 23, of Scottsdale, Arizona, remains in critical condition.

The balloon was operated by Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides, founded by Van Der Walt in 2017. The company offered balloon rides in Eloy and Moab, Utah, depending on the season.

“You go up on a Sunday morning just to feel the breeze, the coldness on your face, and expect to see your friends skydive out of a hot air balloon, which is not uncommon, and then we have a situation like this. So, that’s the sad part,” Powell told Arizona’s Family.

Eloy is about 65 miles southeast of Phoenix.

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