Friday, October 13, 2017

Balony Kubicek Spol Sro BB85Z, N2469L, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides: Fatal accident occurred July 30, 2016 in Lockhart, Caldwell County, Texas

Poor Piloting Decisions, Lack of Medical Requirements, Led to Fatal Texas Balloon Crash

​WASHINGTON — (Oct. 17, 2017) The National Transportation Safety Board Tuesday called on the Federal Aviation Administration to remove its medical certification exemption for commercial balloon operators, saying it contributed to a July 30, 2016, balloon crash that killed 15 passengers and the pilot.

The board found that the balloon pilot’s “pattern of poor decision-making” led to the balloon striking power lines and then crashing to the ground. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s impairing medical conditions and medications that likely affected his decision-making.

“The pilot’s poor decisions were his and his alone,’’ said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt during the board meeting. “But other decisions within government, dating back decades, enabled his poor decision to fly with impairing medical conditions, while using medications that should have grounded him.”

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.

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. The pilot’s decision to then attempt to land in reduced visibility conditions diminished his ability to see and avoid obstacles and resulted in the balloon impacting power lines.

Currently, the FAA exempts commercial balloon pilots from medical certification. This eliminated the potential opportunity for an aviation medical examiner to identify the pilot’s potentially impairing medical conditions and medications. Had a medical certificate been required, the FAA would also have had an opportunity to identify the pilot’s history of drug- and alcohol-related traffic offenses.

The investigation also found fault with the FAA’s oversight of commercial balloon operators.

The board Tuesday approved two recommendations to the FAA. It called on the agency to remove the medical certificate exemption for commercial balloon operators and urged it to find ways to better provide oversight of balloon operators.

“Today’s recommendations, if acted on, will help to bring the safety standards closer to those that apply to powered flight,’’ Sumwalt said. “Balloon pilots, their passengers, and their passengers’ loved ones deserve no less.’’

The abstract of the NTSB’s final report, that includes the findings, probable cause and safety recommendations is available online at The final report will be publicly released in the next several days.

The webcast of the board meeting for this investigation is available for 90 days at

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.


Paige and Lorilee Brabson in the hot air balloon before it plummeted.

When balloon pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols crashed his nine-story-tall hot air balloon into power lines near Lockhart in July 2016, the deadliest hot air balloon crash in modern American history did more than kill 16 people. It upended the lives of countless family members and loved ones. 

The toll on Patricia Morgan’s family was particularly grim: she lost both her daughter and her granddaughter, who had booked the flight as a mother’s day gift. Both women left behind children of their own.

“Everything has changed,” she said. “This is the most horrific time of our lives. My great grand-daughter lost her mother and her grandmother. It’s been a rough road.”

Morgan’s pain was compounded when a National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that Nichols, the pilot, had ingested a “witch’s brew” of prohibited medications, ranging from Valium to oxycodone, and had a lengthy criminal history involving drunken driving and drug offenses.

Story and comments ➤

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; San Antonio, Texas 
Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Alfred G. Nichols: 

NTSB Identification: DCA16MA204
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, July 30, 2016 in Lockhart, TX
Aircraft: KUBICEK BB85, registration: N2469L
Injuries: 16 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 30, 2016, about 0742 central daylight time, a Balony Kubicek BB85Z hot air balloon, registration N2469L, crashed into a field after striking high voltage powerlines near Lockhart, Texas. The 15 passengers and pilot onboard were fatally injured and the balloon was substantially damaged due to impact forces and post-crash fire. The flight was operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a sightseeing passenger flight.

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