Authorities correct erroneous report that hot air balloon pilot in fatal crash had ketamine in his system

The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in the Arizona desert and killed four people earlier this year did not have ketamine in his system before the crash, officials said, correcting an earlier report .

Cornelius van der Walt, 37, initially would have had enough ketamine in his blood to be considered impaired while driving, according to a medical examiner's report obtained by USA Today. The initial report indicated that rescue teams who tried to resuscitate him did not use the drug. But days later, Pinal County officials said they discovered an error and released an edited version of the autopsy report for the pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Eloy and killed four people.

In fact, doctors administered ketamine while transporting Van der Walt to the hospital.

Van der Walt, an Eloy resident originally from South Africa, was piloting the balloon when it carried 13 adults on January 14. Eight paratroopers jumped before problems with the balloon arose, while Van der Walt and four others remained on board. .

The balloon crashed into an empty field in a desert area 65 miles southeast of Phoenix after an “unspecified problem,” according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released Jan. 25.


hot air balloon crash site

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the accident. (FOX10 Phoenix KSAZ)

“A review of several cell phone videos revealed that the balloon was descending with a deflated envelope protruding from the top,” the NTSB report said, adding that at times the flame from the burner beneath the envelope was visible.

Investigators also found thermal damage near the mouth of the casing and that the rim tape material sewn near the top of the casing was frayed as well as several damaged panels.

Scene of hot air balloon crash that killed four people in Arizona

Four people, including the pilot, were killed in the hot air balloon crash. A 23-year-old woman survived with serious injuries. (FOX10 Phoenix KSAZ)

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Van der Walt was killed along with three passengers, identified as Chayton Wiescholek, 28, of Union City, Michigan; Kaitlynn Bartrom, 28, of Andrews, Indiana; and Atahan Kiliccote, 24, of Cupertino, California.

The fourth passenger who survived with serious injuries was identified by police as Valerie Stutterheima, 23, of Scottsdale, Arizona.


The NTSB investigation could take more than a year to finalize its final report on the accident.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to reflect the subsequent report from Pinal County officials showing that ketamine in Van der Walt's system was administered by paramedics in an effort to save his life.


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