Four people were killed and a fifth passenger was critically injured in a hot air balloon crash nearly halfway between Tucson and Phoenix.
Police in Eloy, Ariz., said on Facebook “a hot air balloon crash-landed in the desert area east of Sunshine Blvd.,” Sunday morning shortly before 8 a.m.
“The cause of the crash is currently unknown,” the police department said.
Local authorities are working with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to investigate the incident.
According to ABC News in Arizona, officials said the ill-fated balloon carried four passengers, a pilot and eight skydivers who exited the balloon’s gondola before the crash. Three of the victims reportedly died in a hospital after one person was declared dead at the site of the incident.
Witnesses told ABC News that balloon pilot Cornelius van der Walt was among the dead. Two area skydivers expressed surprise that van der Walt, whom they described as “an excellent balloon pilot,” was involved in the tragedy.
One of the victims was said to be a skydiver from Indiana visiting friends in Arizona. It’s unclear if she was planning to skydive Sunday.
Ballooning tragedies were responsible for 24 deaths between 2014 and 2021, according to the website Hot Air Flight. That relatively high number was inflated by a 2016 crash outside Lockhart, Texas killing 16 people in what’s believed to have been the deadliest commercial balloon incident in U.S. history.