Balloon Pilot in Fatal Crash Had Ketamine in System

Four people were killed when it went down in Arizona in January
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2024 8:44 AM CST
Updated Apr 4, 2024 12:59 PM CDT
4 Die in Hot Air Balloon Crash in Arizona Desert
   (Getty Images / Siewwy84)
UPDATE Apr 4, 2024 12:59 PM CDT

An autopsy reveals that the pilot of a hot-air balloon that crashed in the Arizona desert and killed four people had elevated levels of ketamine in his system, reports NBC News. Cornelius van der Walt, 37, and three passengers were killed when the balloon went down in January. While US standards were not immediately clear, USA Today notes that van der Walt would have been 60 times above the threshold for impaired driving in the UK.

Jan 15, 2024 8:44 AM CST

Police are calling it a "devastating incident": A hot-air balloon crash-landed in the Arizona desert early Sunday, killing four and critically injuring one. CNN reports the balloon originally had 13 people aboard: the pilot, four passengers, and eight skydivers. Those skydivers jumped as planned, but then "something catastrophic occurred with the balloon, causing it to crash to the ground," said Eloy Police Chief Byron Gwaltney. The balloon came down around 7:50am local time in a desert area in Eloy, which sits roughly 65 miles south of Phoenix and is known as an area that's popular among skydivers.

Eloy Mayor Micah Powell said investigators are "looking at the physics of it all," reports the New York Times. The NTSB says its preliminary information suggests the balloon suffered an "unspecified problem with its envelope," with a witness saying that prior to impact, "the material of the hot-air balloon was just straight up and down." While authorities have yet to name the dead pending notification of their next of kin, relatives say Katie Bartrom, a 28-year-old registered nurse from Indiana, was among those who died.

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ABC15 reports pilot Cornelius van der Walt was also killed, with a skydiver who knew him describing him as an "excellent balloon pilot. It's not like he wasn't experienced to dropping skydivers. There's definitely [a] different way to do it. So he knew what he was doing." David Boone added that in order to jump from the balloon, a skydiver must have completed 50 prior skydives. (More hot air balloon stories.)

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