Four people tragically died in a hot air balloon accident in the Arizona desert on Sunday.
According to KSAZ-TV in Phoenix, the crash took place about 7:50 a.m. in Eloy, about 50 miles northwest of Tucson.
Police said the balloon was carrying eight skydivers who made their jumps from the aircraft before problems arose, the station reported.
Four passengers and the balloon’s pilot remained on board. Four of those individuals died in the crash. The fifth was taken to a hospital in critical condition.
The cause of the crash has not yet been identified.
“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,” a police statement said, according to KSAZ.
DEADLY CRASH: First images from Sky12 of a deadly hot air balloon crash in Eloy, AZ.
— Jonathan McCall (@JonathanMcCall) January 14, 2024
Meanwhile, KTVK-TV in Phoenix spoke with Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney, who described the crash as a “tragedy” for the local community.
“The incident appeared to occur very quickly,” he said. “It’s just an absolute tragedy for our community and for the people that we’re working with today.
The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration will now conduct an investigation that will involve taking the aircraft to a special facility for closer inspection.
“We are working closely with federal agencies, including the NTSB and FAA, to investigate the cause of this tragic event,” the police department wrote in a Facebook post.
“While we continue our efforts, we ask for your thoughts and support for the families and loved ones affected during this difficult time.”
KNXV-TV in Phoenix, citing family and friends, identified two of the victims as Katie Bartrom, 28, a registered nurse from Indiana, and Cornelius van der Walt, the balloon’s pilot.
“It hit me as a shock. Just because, you know, Cornelius is always super careful. He’s very, very aware of what he’s doing. He’s been doing it for a long, long time and he only got better with time,” skydiver David Boone told the station.
“He was just an excellent balloon pilot. It’s not like he wasn’t experienced [at] dropping skydivers. There’s definitely [a] different way to do it. So he knew what he was doing.”
Although hot air balloon accidents do occur, companies that organize the flights say they are rare.
“According to the Aviation Accident Database put out by the FAA, hot air ballooning is the safest form of all air travel and are rarely involved in aviation crashes,” notes Seattle Ballooning, a Washington-based company that sells flights in the Seattle Area.
“When compared to other forms of transportation, hot air ballooning is even safer. In fact, you are more likely to be injured while driving a car than you are while flying in a hot air balloon. This is because hot air balloons only fly in good weather and slow wind, which helps to prevent accidents.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.