NATIONAL NEWS

Air ambulance crew administered drug to hot air balloon pilot after crash that killed 4, report says

Apr 5, 2024, 8:37 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — An autopsy report has been amended to show the pilot of a hot air balloon that plummeted in Arizona, killing him and three others, had been administered an anesthetic after the crash.

The Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office said earlier this week that toxicology tests showed Cornelius van der Walt had a high amount of ketamine in his blood but did not specify how it got into his system or when.

The balloon operated by Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides plummeted about 2,000 feet (609 meters) to the desert floor on Jan. 14 south of Phoenix near Eloy.

The amended report released Friday clarified that while neither paramedics from the Eloy Fire Department nor the hospital staff administered ketamine, the air ambulance company that transported van der Walt to a hospital did. The report had no other substantial changes.

The company, Air Evac Services, did not respond to a telephone message from The Associated Press after hours Friday at its Phoenix office.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation.

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board earlier this year said there was damage near the top of the envelope where the sewn rim tape material was frayed, and several of the balloon’s panels were damaged. The envelope is what is filled with hot air, making the balloon rise.

Thirteen people were aboard the Kubicek BB 85 Z balloon when it took off from Eloy on the morning of Jan. 14. Eight were skydivers who exited the gondola before the crash.

The skydivers jumped out at around 5,000 feet (1,524 meters). Witnesses said the balloon partially deflated and began to lose altitude quickly before a hard impact in an empty field that serves as a drop zone for skydivers.

Van der Walt, 37, and three passengers died, including 28-year-old Kaitlynn “Katie” Bartrom of Andrews, Indiana; 28-year-old Chayton Wiescholek of Union City, Michigan; and 24-year-old Atahan Kiliccote of Cupertino, California. Another woman was critically injured in the crash.

Droplyne Hot Air Balloon Rides notes on its website that it had a perfect safety record before the crash and has since halted operations at its only two sites in Eloy and Utah.

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Air ambulance crew administered drug to hot air balloon pilot after crash that killed 4, report says