Hot air balloon pilot in deadly 2016 Texas crash was high, NTSB says

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LOCKHART, Texas – Flying high, drunk, or some equivalent,  is being blamed for the deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history. It happened in July a year ago in Lockhart, Texas.

The national transportation safety board just released its findings on the tragedy that killed all 15 passengers and the pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols.  Investigators said Nichols had Valium and Oxycodone in his system, plus enough Benadryl to impair him comparable to a drunk driver.

The NTSB says Nichol’s diagnosis of depression and ADHD, plus excessive levels of meds, led to a pattern of poor decision-making before and during the flight.

It was foggy that morning and getting worse. Investigators say he should have canceled. That was his first mistake. Once air-borne, he never should have climbed above the clouds.  When he finally decided to land, visibility was nearly non-existent. On descent, the balloon struck high voltage power lines and literally burst into flames.

A couple from Katy was among the victims.

While the NTSB is pinning most of the blame on the pilot, it is not letting the federal aviation administration off the hook.  Currently, the FAA exempts commercial balloon operators from needing medical certification. The FAA’s own investigation found Nichols never reported numerous drug and alcohol convictions including one for drunk driving.  In a statement, the FAA says it will carefully consider the NTSB’s recommendations regarding balloon pilot certifications.

Hopefully that isn`t just a bunch of hot air.

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