Investigation Ensues after Hot Air Balloon Tragedy

( – A hot air balloon fell out of the sky in what is being described as a tragedy by locals on Sunday, January 14th in Arizona. Local Fox affiliate KSAZ-TV said that the crash happened around 7:50 a.m. in the town of Eloy, north of Tucson.

Police reported that the aircraft took off with eight skydivers, four passengers, and the pilot. At some point after the skydivers jumped out of the balloon the balloon suffered a critical failure and fell out of the sky. Four of the five died in the crash or shortly thereafter from their injuries; the fifth remains in critical condition.

Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney called it “an absolute tragedy” and said that whatever happened, happened quickly. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate to discover the exact cause of the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration will also contribute investigators, according to police.

Police asked for support from the community for the families of the victims and first responders. The dead include the balloon’s pilot, Cornelius van der Walt. Local skydiver David Boone, speaking with KSAZ-TV reporters, said that van der Walt was experienced in piloting balloons and releasing skydivers. Boone added that van der Walt was “super careful” and was an “excellent” pilot.

Hot air balloon accidents are incredibly rare, and the activity is often billed as the safest form of air travel. Companies promoting short flights into the wild blue yonder in a hot air balloon have cited safety statistics indicating that it’s far more dangerous to drive a car than ride in a hot air balloon.

Hot air balloons have the additional benefit of only operating in good weather conditions which make them incredibly safe.

Bob Romaneschi, a 40-year veteran balloon pilot, urged people to wait for the investigators to do their work before drawing conclusions or making wild guesses. He said that van der Walt had originally been a skydiver who became a balloon pilot. The other victims were remembered and celebrated by their friends and loved ones.

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