Deadly Hot Air Balloon Crash Pilot Had 7 Prescription Drugs in System, History of DWI

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Deadly Hot Air Balloon Crash Pilot Had 7 Prescription Drugs in System, History of DWI

Yesterday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a hearing regarding the fatal hot air balloon crash that killed 16 people near Lockhart Texas, on July 30, 2016. The hearing in Washington D.C. was streamed live on the NTSB website.

The balloon, operated by Nichols, crashed into an electrical wire. All passengers were killed when the basket severed and caught fire. It is thought to be the deadliest balloon crash in U.S. history.

Robert Sumwalt, NTSB member, addressed the victim’s families upon opening:

“Our commitment at the NTSB is to learn from this event so that others don’t have to go through what you’ve gone through.”

A portion of the hearing examined the rules and regulations for commercial hot air balloon pilots, such as medical history they are required to disclose. As part of this, the medical history of the pilot, Alfred Nichols, was finally revealed.

An NTSB member asked the FAA for a confirmation that a commercial hot air balloon was required to apply for a medical certificate. The FAA acknowledged that this was correct.

The NTSB released witness statements that another balloon pilot can contracted them via email, stating that he had filed complained with the FAA in December 2013 after he discovered that Nichols had not disclosed a DWI.

As part of the investigation, NTSB included Nichol’s history of substance abuse, which included five DWI-related convictions. While this may be of no consequence since the pilot had not been drinking on the day of the crash, it is a concern, because, well, he could have been. He also had a history of drug arrests. Nichols did not report his criminal nor medical history to the FAA.

Bill English, Hearing Officer:

“The pilot also had a history of multiple psychiatric conditions as well as multiple prescription medications which were detected in toxicology.”

According to the NTSB, Nichols suffered from a variety of medical conditions, including depression, fibromyalgia, and Type II diabetes.

In fact, two days before the crash occurred, he had picked up an oxycodone prescription. The toxicology report revealed that he had a total of 7 prescription drugs in his system at the time of death, including valium and oxycodone. Of note, all drugs indicated by the toxicology report are banned by the FDA for airline pilots.

Currently, due to a loophole in FAA policy, balloon pilots aren’t required to disclose their medications. However, that loophole is likely to close due to these findings into the deadly balloon crash.

Sumwalt in closing:

“…this could be a watershed event for commercial air industry to up the ante on safety however that gets done. And if we don’t take it seriously we really are missing a tragic opportunity to correct it.”

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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