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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Four dead and one critically hurt in hot air balloon crash, police say

By Christopher Mele

Four people were killed and one person was critically injured after a hot air balloon crashed in a desert area about 50 miles northwest of Tucson, Arizona, on Sunday morning, police said.

The crash happened around 7:50 a.m. in Eloy, the Eloy Police Department said on Facebook.

The balloon was carrying 13 adults, including its operator, Eloy Mayor Micah Powell said in an interview Sunday night. Eight of those aboard were skydivers.

It was not immediately clear what went wrong, but it appears that after the skydivers left the gondola, there was some kind of catastrophic failure, said Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney.

A witness who saw the last 10 seconds of the balloon’s descent before it crashed described it as deflated, shapeless and coming straight down, Powell said.

One passenger was pronounced dead at the scene and three others were pronounced dead after being taken to hospitals, Powell said.

He said investigators are “looking at the physics of it all” to determine what precisely happened.

Gwaltney said investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration would probably examine, among other things, cellphone footage that might have been shot during the ride.

The NTSB said on social media that it was investigating the crash but offered no further details.

It was unclear what altitude the balloon had reached before it crashed.

Police said they were withholding the names of the victims, pending notification of next of kin. The identity of the operator of the hot air balloon was not available.

Powell said the area is a popular location for skydivers, describing it as “very well-known and loved” among enthusiasts. “We embrace it as a community,” he said.

There have been fatal crashes involving skydivers and planes from time to time, he said, but he could not recall a crash involving as many people.

“It’s a sad, sad situation,” Powell said. “Out hearts go out to those families who lost loved ones.”

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