Billionaire John T. Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, died June 27 when his ultralight crashed shortly after takeoff from the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming. He was 58.
John Walton was the second son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and served on the board of directors of the world’s largest retailer. He was ranked No. 4 on the Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans in 2004, with a fortune estimated at $18 billion.
According to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, Walton was piloting a CGS Hawk when he died. The crash happened a few hundred yards from the departure end of the runway. According to a report published in the Jackson Hole newspaper, friends of Walton said he had recently purchased the ultralight from someone in Virginia.
Witnesses to the crash said the ultralight was circling when it dove sharply into the ground.
The NTSB is investigating the crash. It will be several months before the cause is determined.
Aviation was a passion for Walton. He was an experienced pilot who, in the 1970s, worked as a corporate pilot for Wal-Mart before leaving to start a crop dusting company. Aviation was one of his many interests that become a business. In the 1980s he started a boat building company in San Diego and recently formed a holding company, True North, to oversee various business interests.
He attended the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, but left school to serve in Vietnam. He was a Green Beret medic in Vietnam, where he volunteered for covert ops behind enemy lines. He earned the Silver Star for saving lives of team members during a reconnaissance mission.
Walton joined the board of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 1992, but did not work for the retail side of the company. His focus was Wal-Mart’s philanthropic endeavors, especially those revolving around education.