New NTSB findings fault pilot for hot air balloon crash

A crew hoists a bag holding the remains of a hot air balloon that crashed onto a waiting truck at the scene near Lockhart Texas in July 2016

A hot air balloon pilot was wasted on a combination of potent drugs when he flew into a power line and killed all 16 people on board - the deadliest such crash in USA history, federal investigators said Tuesday.

During a meeting in Washington, NTSB revealed its findings about the July 2016 crash near Austin that killed all 16 people aboard. He brushed off the warning.

"When we looked at the amount of Diphenhydramine in his blood at the time of the crash it was right at the therapeutic level, said NTSB Investigator Nick Webster". "We find a hole and we go".

Other medications investigators found in Nichols' bloodstream included three prescription sedatives: the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine; the sedative diazepam, also known as valium; and the opioid pain medication oxycodone.

Investigators found that depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the combined effects of multiple central nervous system-impairing drugs likely affected the pilot's ability to make safe decisions.

NTSB found that while the FAA had strict rules and regulations that governed airline pilots, the aviation authority did not police the balloon industry with the same vigor.

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The investigation also found that the balloon pilot should have cancelled the sight-seeing flight because of deteriorating weather conditions and, once in the air, should not have climbed above the clouds.

"Why is the FAA promoting it?" They are abdicating their responsibility to provide oversight.

Before the Texas crash, Nichols' balloon-ride companies in Missouri and IL were the targets of various customer complaints dating back to 1997.

"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.

Scott Appelman, owner of the New Mexico-based balloon operator Rainbow Ryders Inc., said his pilots already meet the higher standard and that federal requirements won't have an impact.

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