ALERT: 4 Dead, 1 Injured

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( – In an unexpected turn of events at what should have been an unforgettable experience, a tragic hot air balloon crash in Pinal County resulted in the deaths of four individuals, with a fifth person critically injured.

The accident occurred in a remote desert area approximately five miles north of Eloy, as reported by local law enforcement.

Eloy’s mayor provided details of the incident, stating that the balloon carried 13 individuals: eight skydivers, four passengers, and a pilot. Before the crash, the skydivers had left the gondola. Eyewitness accounts saw the balloon in a vertical position just before crashing to the ground.

At the crash site, one person was declared dead, and three others died of their injuries at a hospital. One individual is currently receiving critical care at a Valley hospital. The names of the victims have not been officially released at this time.

However, one of the victims has been identified by her family as Katie Bartrom, a 28-year-old registered nurse from Indiana. Speaking to ABC15, Bartrom’s mother, Jennifer Hubartt, described her daughter as someone who embraced skydiving and adventure.

Hubartt conveyed her grief, saying, “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.” She remembered Katie as a beautiful person who had recently started her career as an RN and was establishing her independence.

Members of the skydiving community informed ABC15 that the pilot, Cornelius van der Walt, was also among those who died in the crash. Tanya Toliver and David Boone, both Valley skydivers, recounted their experiences with van der Walt’s balloon.

Toliver recalled that van der Walt’s balloon was her first for both a hot air balloon ride and skydiving. Boone expressed shock over the incident, praising van der Walt’s carefulness and skill as a pilot. He remarked on the pilot’s extensive experience and expertise in conducting skydives from the balloon, emphasizing that van der Walt was well-versed in the unique requirements of such operations.

The Eloy police department is collaborating with federal agencies, including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to investigate the circumstances of the crash thoroughly.

The NTSB has indicated that the crash occurred following an unspecified issue with the balloon’s envelope. Further details regarding this tragic incident are expected to emerge as the investigation continues.