Fatal Texas Hot Air Balloon Crash Raises Questions About Lax Safety Regulations

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NTSB investigating Texas hot air balloon crashInvestigators are looking into whether environmental factors, mechanical/structural failures, or human error that caused a hot air balloon to crash into a power line in Lockhart, Texas on Saturday, July 30, 2016. SIxteen people were on board the balloon. No survivors have been found.

The NTSB has gathered 14 personal electronic devices, including cellphones, an iPad, and three cameras from the crash site, which will be analyzed at the NTSB’s lab in Washington, DC.

The 16-passenger balloon was owned and operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. The balloon traveled about 8 miles before crashing.

This is the deadliest hot air balloon crash in United States’ history, coming two years after the NTSB asked the FAA to increase safety regulations in the hot air balloon industry, which the FAA declined to do. A spokesman for the NTSB said the Federal Aviation Administration’s response was “unacceptable.” We agree.

As the NTSB’s investigation into the causes of Saturday’s balloon crash reveals more information, we’re left with more questions.

We know that Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides has had issues with complaints to the Better Business Bureau about mostly customer service issues about cancelled flights, rescheduled flights, issues providing refunds, and difficulties contacting the company.

We also know that the pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols, has been an FAA certified commercial pilot of lighter-than-air balloons since July 14, 2010. He has had two previous hot air balloon companies, including one in St. Louis, Missouri. He has a history of alcohol and controlled-substance problems, but his former girlfriend told the Associated Press that he was a recovering alcoholic and did not fly “when he wasn’t supposed to.”

Philip Bryant of Ballooning Adventures of Texas in Richmond - a company that offers hot air balloon rides in addition to inspecting and maintaining hot air balloons - said the balloon had “very good equipment, very new equipment.” The balloon had been inspected by Bryant in May 2014, and was issued a one-year recertification according to Bryant, as mandated by the balloon manufacturer. Byrant told the Associated Press that he was unable to perform the inspection this year, but believes Nichols took it to another inspector.

Based on this information, we want to know:

  • if the FAA had increased safety regulations, this crash could have been prevented
  • if the balloon had been inspected in 2015 and in 2016
  • if the equipment was defective
  • if the balloon was defective in any way
  • if the company had insurance and if the policy was maintained
  • if the company had customers sign liability waivers before going up in the balloon
  • if operator error is responsible for the crash in any way
  • If the pilot knew the power lines were in his way

Federal investigations can take years, often with results not being reported until the deadline to file a wrongful death lawsuit has passed.

As more information comes to light about the crash and the cause of death is determined, you may find your grief compounded by the realization that your loved one’s death should never have happened. This is the point when you may make the decision to consult with an attorney and decide to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get justice.

Nothing can replace the life of a loved one. The families of the Lockhart balloon crash victims deserve to know the truth about why you’ve lost their loved ones and how tragedies such as this one can be prevented in the future. You have the right to conduct your own independent investigations into the cause of the crash, which can help you hold the responsible parties accountable for your loss. Filing a wrongful death lawsuit can help you get closure and peace of mind.

Photo credit: NTSB

 

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