Cornelius van der Walt, a lover of the sky, was as adventurous as he was responsible. Everything needed to be safe, and done in a particular way. He was the guy to trust, said John Vanca, his best friend and business partner.

When Mr. van der Walt, 37, and three others died in a hot-air balloon crash in Arizona in January, the news shocked the skydiving community and made headlines around the world.

Last week, the accident was back in the news, when the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office released an autopsy report that said it had found high levels of ketamine, an anesthetic that in certain doses can have hallucinogenic effects, in Mr. van der Walt’s body.

The balloon pilot did not have a prescription for the drug, the report stated. Though medical workers sometimes use it in an emergency to relieve pain, the report said they had not used it that day.

The headlines, from local newspapers to international outlets, homed in on that detail: “Hot air balloon pilot had ketamine in his system at the time of a crash that killed 4, report says,” The Associated Press said. “Pilot in deadly hot air balloon crash had ketamine in system,” said The Times of London.

But that wasn’t the full story. Two days later, the medical examiner’s office reversed itself, adding a crucial detail to its report: Emergency responders had, in fact, given the ketamine to Mr. van der Walt.


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