Deadliest Hot Air Balloon Crash in U.S. History Leaves 16 Dead

Every day more than 8 million people fly, and Americans nationwide are attuned to the risks of air travel. However, what many don’t realize is that flying in an air balloon brings its own particular set of risks.

Last week, a hot air balloon crashed in central Texas after coming into contact with power lines. The basket holding passengers exploded into flames, leaving all 16 aboard dead.

This accident is the deadliest hot air balloon incident in U.S. history.

The balloon took off about 20 minutes after sunrise on July 30, as per FAA regulations. The balloon only flew for about eight miles before hitting power lines at 7:40 a.m..

The pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols, was communicating with the ground crew via a cell phone and was using an iPad to navigate. Ground crew members said that there were patches of fog early in the morning Saturday, but Nichols deemed the weather clear enough to take off.

There is evidence that Nichols was trying to land at the time of the crash.

Among the charred gondola, 14 electronic devices were found by rescue crews, including cameras, cell phones, and one iPad. National Transportation Safety Board technicians are hoping to salvage the memory cards, along with Twitter posts, to determine what exactly happened up in the air.

Nichols is coming under criticism by many as he has a lengthy arrest record, mostly for driving under the influence of alcohol. Described as a recovering alcoholic, he had multiple DWI misdemeanors, as well as driving with a suspended license offenses under his belt.

But as reported by People , former girlfriend Wendy Bartch wants to defend Nichols and believes his past record has nothing to do with the accident. She says, “He did not fly when he wasn’t supposed to. Having other people’s lives at stake was Skip’s primary concern.”

The FAA and NTSB are still investigating the crash focusing on four factors, the cause of the crash, the balloon itself, the operator, and the environment.

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