A “heartbreaking” hot air balloon crash in southern Arizona left four people dead and one critically injured over the weekend, authorities said.
Eloy Police Department Chief Byron Gwaltney said eight skydivers survived the tragedy that took place in “an empty field in a desert area” of Eloy, a city in Pinal County about 65 miles southeast of Phoenix and 55 miles northeast of Tucson.
Shortly after the skydivers completed a successful jump from the balloon, Gwaltney said, “something catastrophic occurred with the balloon, causing it to crash to the ground.”
During a press conference, Eloy Mayor Micah Powell reported the aircraft was carrying 13 adults at the time of the crash − its operator, four passengers and the eight skydivers.
The impact, Powell said, took place in “the world’s largest drop zone” for skydivers.
What was the cause of the hot air balloon crash?
The cause of the crash was not immediately known on Monday.
“But eyewitnesses stated that in the last several seconds of the impact that the material of the hot air balloon was just straight up and down and the impact was fairly large,” Powell said.
Five people were inside the gondola when it crashed, officials said, and one died at the scene. Three passengers were taken to a hospital where they later died, Powell said.
Another passenger was taken to an area trauma center where they were in critical condition on Sunday, Powell said.
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NTSB and FAA also investigating the fatal balloon crash
Police said the incident remained under investigation by the department as well as the National Transportation and Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration federal agencies.
“While we continue our efforts, we ask for your thoughts and support for the families and loved ones affected during this difficult time,” police released in a statement Sunday.
The Eloy Police Department, which was withholding names of victims pending notification of next of kin, said in a statement that it “extends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of those involved in this heartbreaking incident.”
Natalie Neysa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on X @nataliealund.