The parents of a survivor of the deadly Eloy hot air balloon crash set up a GoFundMe campaign with a $100,000 goal to help pay for their daughter’s rehabilitation and care.
Valerie Stutterheim, a 23-year-old Scottsdale resident, was in the hot air balloon Jan. 14 when it crashed in Eloy and killed four others aboard.
A witness on the ground told authorities in the seconds leading up to the crash “the material of the hot air balloon was just straight up and down, and the impact was fairly, fairly large,” the mayor said.
Valerie suffered a traumatic brain injury with unknown long-term effects, according to the crowdfunding site’s page, which parents Martha and Tony Stutterheim signs. She also has several broken bones and has undergone multiple surgeries to repair those, with possibly more ahead, the page added.
“Her bones will eventually heal, but her ability to walk and otherwise move is uncertain,” the page reads. “She currently cannot speak to us. What we do know is that Valerie has a very long road of rehabilitation and care ahead.”
The hot air balloon’s pilot, Cornelius van der Walt, 37, and three passengers — Chayton Wiescholek, 28, of Union City, Michigan; Kaitlynn Bartrom, 28, of Andrews, Indiana; and Atahan Kiliccote, 24, of Cupertino, California — died in the crash. Operated by Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides, the Kubicek 85 balloon departed Casa Grande with 13 people aboard, including eight skydivers who jumped off before any issue came up.
The balloon went down after an “unspecified problem” with its “envelope” — the large bag that fills with hot air to make the aircraft rise, according to a Jan. 15 statement from the National Transportation Safety Board. The federal agency on Jan. 25 released a preliminary report stating that before the balloon hit the ground, the craft was already deflated with the burner on.
This was Stutterheim’s first hot air balloon ride, and the incident comes less than two years after her brother Ian died, her parents wrote on the page.
“Valerie is an extraordinary soul. She is kind-hearted, empathetic, witty, responsible, and creative,” read the page, adding about her brother’s death, “In those dark times, even in her own grief, Valerie’s resilience and wisdom kept our tight little family on a path of healing.”
The GoFundMe page describes Stutterheim as a skilled woodworker who taught the craft at the Phoenix Forge in Phoenix. She had built a wheelchair ramp for her grandmother, according to the GoFundMe page. Recently, she became a pet parent to a kitten, the page mentioned.
As of Sunday evening, the GoFundMe had raised almost $85,369,000 of its $100,000 goal.
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