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Hot Air Balloon Crash Leaves Survivor with Severe TBI

PHOENIX, Arizona — In a devastating incident, a hot air balloon crash in Eloy on January 14, 2024, resulted in one fatality and severe injuries to several passengers, including Valerie Stutterheim. The crash occurred just 35 minutes into the flight, following the planned departure of eight skydivers.

Valerie Stutterheim, described by her family as an extraordinary soul, was aboard the balloon with her friend, Atahan Kiliccote. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that after the skydivers jumped, a catastrophic failure caused the balloon to crash to the ground.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing the deflated envelope above the descending balloon. The basket, however, landed upright, but claimed the lives of four individuals, including Atahan Kiliccote, and left Valerie Stutterheim in critical condition with multiple broken bones and a severe traumatic brain injury.

Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney described the incident as tragic, highlighting that the pilot, Cornelius Van Der Walt, 37, also lost his life in the crash. Three other victims, identified as Chayton Wiescholek, 28, Kaitlynn Bartrom, 28, and Atahan Kiliccote, 24, also succumbed to their injuries.

Valerie Stutterheim’s family, to support her TBI recovery, launched a GoFundMe campaign. Despite Valerie’s independent and strong-willed nature, the family acknowledged the challenging rehabilitation journey ahead and called for assistance from friends and well-wishers.

As the community mourns the loss of lives and prays for Valerie Stutterheim’s recovery, investigations into the exact cause of the hot air balloon crash are ongoing. The tragedy serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictable risks associated with recreational activities, leaving families and friends grappling with the aftermath of this heartbreaking incident.

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