Hot air balloon pilot in deadly Arizona crash had ketamine in system, reports say


The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in the Arizona desert and killed four people earlier this year had elevated levels of ketamine in his system, according to reports.

Cornelius van der Walt, 37, had enough ketamine in his blood to be considered impaired for driving, according to a medical examiner’s report obtained by USA Today. The report said he did not have a prescription for the drug, and that rescue crews that tried to revive him did not utilize the drug.

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. (FOX10 Phoenix KSAZ)

“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. (FOX10 Phoenix KSAZ)

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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.



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