Published: Wed, October 18, 2017
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Hot Air Balloon Crash Pilot Was Impaired Like Drunk Driver: NTSB

Hot Air Balloon Crash Pilot Was Impaired Like Drunk Driver: NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Tuesday faulted US aviation regulators and the pilot in the July 2016 Texas balloon crash that killed 16 people, the deadliest USA aviation accident in more than seven years.

The partial frame of a hot air balloon is visible above a crop field as investigators comb the wreckage of the July 30, 2016 crash.


The board concluded that pilot Alfred Nichols had underlying health conditions and multiple medications in his system that likely impaired his ability safely navigate cloudy weather conditions that day. Had a medical certificate been required, the FAA would also have had an opportunity to identify the pilot's history of drug- and alcohol-related traffic offenses.

"This pilot was selling rides in a balloon that could carry more passengers than many airplanes and helicopters that are used in site-seeing tours, yet he was not required to have an FAA medical certificate", he said.

"The pilot's poor decisions were his and his alone, " said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt during the board meeting.

The balloon hit a power line and plummeted in flames into a pasture near Lockhart, about 30 miles (50 km) south of the state capital Austin.

The 49-year-old was diagnosed with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), medical conditions that may have affected his decision making, NTSB investigators found. He said the FAA was not providing adequate oversight.

It also pointed to the FAA's exemption of commercial balloon pilots from medical certification requirements as problematic, and recommended the FAA remove it.

Pilots who "consistently demonstrate willful noncompliance with federal aviation regulations pose a safety risk that can not be controlled through additional regulations", the FAA report said.

NTSB medical officer Dr. Nicholas Webster said Tuesday that Nichols was probably impaired by Valium, oxycodone, and enough Benadryl to mimic the blood-alcohol level of a drunken driver, the Associated Press reported.

In July, the FAA found that the pilot made errors during the flight, had disqualifying medical conditions and was under influence of drugs.

The National Transportation Safety Board is getting tough on incompetent hot air balloon pilots.

In its report, the FAA said no new regulations were needed, and instead argued that "v$3 oluntary efforts by the balloon industry will likely provide timely and effective accident prevention measures".

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