The identities of the victims killed in a hot air balloon crash over the weekend in Arizona have been released by the Eloy Police Department.
During a press conference on Monday, Eloy Mayor Micah Powell reported the balloon had been carrying 13 adults − the pilot, four passengers and eight skydivers, before the balloon crashed into an empty field in a desert area 65 miles southeast of Phoenix.
“Skydivers were able to exit the balloon without incident and complete their skydiving incident and that’s when something catastrophic happened and the balloon crashed to the ground,” police said in a statement.
Mayor Powell reported that three passengers and the pilot were among those killed in the crash.
The impact of the crash took place in “the world’s largest drop zone” for skydivers, Powell said.
Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney identified the pilot of the hot air balloon as Cornelius Van Der Walt, 37, a resident of Eloy who was originally from South Africa. The three passengers who died were identified as Chayton Wiescholek, 28, of Union City, Michigan; Kaitlynn Bartrom, 28, of Andrews, Indiana; and Atahan Kiliccote, 24, of Cupertino, California.
The woman who was critically injured was identified by police as Valerie Stutterheima, 23, from Scottsdale, Arizona.
“At this time, the Eloy Police Department is actively collaborating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the investigation of this incident,” the statement read.
Police added that the skydiving was intentional and was successfully completed by all skydivers before any issues with the hot air balloon were evident.
Eyewitnesses told police that in the last several seconds of the impact, the material of the hot air balloon was just “straight up and down and the impact was fairly large”, Powell said during the press conference.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives in this tragic incident and our thoughts are with Ms. Stutterheim as she receives medical care,” police said.
The crash happened just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, January 14.
The NTSB stated that investigators had arrived at the scene to document and examine the hot air balloon, adding that the balloon would be moved to a secure facility for further investigation.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known Monday.