Austin, TX- The National Transportation Safety Board recently released a report detailing the causes of a deadly Texas balloon crash in 2016 that left 16 people dead including the pilot. While the weather was less than ideal the day of the crash, the NTSB found that the balloon pilot’s actions ultimately led to the horrific accident and that he had several drugs in his system.
NTSB Investigation Faults Pilot for Fatal Texas Balloon Crash
In their investigation of the July 2016 balloon accident cites the pilot for deadliest balloon crash in U.S. history, the NTSB says the balloon pilot, Alfred Nichols, was to blame, according to USA Today.
Sixteen people were killed when the balloon hit power lines in Lockhart, which is just south of Austin. The NTSB report states that Nichols took off in fog and descended through the clouds which made it difficult to see obstacles in the balloon’s way.
In their report, the NTSB also noted that Nichols had a few drugs in his system including valium, opioids, and the antihistamine Benadryl.
Dr. Nicholas Webster, a medical officer for the NTSB, noted in the report that Nichols had enough Benadryl in his system to be as impaired as a drunken driver.
The report concludes that Nichols, who had four previous drunken driving charges, should not have been piloting a balloon that fateful morning. The board didn’t cite drugs specifically for the crash but said those substances along with decreased visibility, and Nichol’s mental state – he experienced bouts of depression and suffered from ADHD – all attributed to the accident.
Calls for Tighter Regulations for Balloons
Since the crash, safety advocates have been pushing for tighter regulations for the industry. Balloon pilots are required to get a license and take a written test, but there are few other regulations to ensure tragedies like the Austin-area crash don’t happen again.
In their report, the NTSB criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for lax oversight of the balloon industry. They urged the FAA to require balloon operators to go through the same medical evaluations as airline pilots. Hot air balloon pilots only have to submit a statement of their medical conditions; they don’t have to go through a medical exam.

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