Officials correct erroneous report that hot air balloon pilot in deadly crash had ketamine in system

Officials correct erroneous report that hot air balloon pilot in deadly crash had ketamine in 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 prior to the crash, officials said, correcting an earlier report.

Cornelius van der Walt, 37, was initially reported to have had enough ketamine in his blood to be considered impaired for driving, according to a medical examiner’s report obtained by USA Today. The initial report said that rescue crews that tried to revive him did not utilize the drug. But days later, Pinal County officials said they had discovered an error and released an amended version of the autopsy report for the pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Eloy and left four dead.

Medics, in fact, did administer ketamine while transporting Van der Walt to the hospital.

Van der Walt, a resident of Eloy who was originally from South Africa, was piloting the balloon when it carried 13 adults on Jan. 14. Eight skydivers jumped before any issues 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 on Jan. 25.

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hot air balloon crash site
The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the crash.

"A review of multiple mobile phone videos revealed that the balloon was descending with a deflated envelope trailing from above," the NTSB report said, adding that at times the burner flame under the envelope was seen.

Investigators also found thermal damage near the mouth of the envelope and that sewn rim tape material near the top of the envelope was frayed along with several damaged panels.

Scene from 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 critical injuries.

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Van der Walt was killed along with three passengers, who were 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 critical injuries was identified by police as Valerie Stutterheima, 23, from Scottsdale, Arizona.

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The NTSB investigation could take over a year to complete its final report on the crash.

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


Original article source: Officials correct erroneous report that hot air balloon pilot in deadly crash had ketamine in system