Balloon pilot was never grounded due to gap in oversight

Balloon pilot was never grounded due to gap in oversight

Balloon pilot was never grounded due to gap in oversight

The weekend's hot balloon crash in Texas has been a grim reminder of a similar but deadlier accident in Egypt three years ago, when 19 foreign tourists burned to death or jumped to their deaths from the burning balloon as their sunrise flight over the famed temples of the ancient city of Luxor drew to a close.

Family members told the Associated Press the couple died in the hot air balloon crash that killed 16 people on Saturday near Lockhart, Texas, about 60 miles northeast of San Antonio.

Pat Cannon, a balloon pilot and the festival's balloon meister, said safety will be stressed throughout the three-day event as well as the fact ballooning overall is a safe sport. A former girlfriend described Nichols as a recovering alcoholic and said he had been sober for at least four years and never piloted a balloon after drinking. The Federal Aviation Administration requires a minimum of 35 hours of flying time for commercial hot air balloon pilots, but look for pilots with hundreds or even thousands of hours.

Such tests could be important since Nichols was allowed to keep flying despite at least four drunken-driving convictions.

He explained the training and testing he's been through over the years.

- Ask if any of the company's pilots has ever been refused insurance or has been required to file a report with the FAA or the National Transportation Safety Board.

Sunday Rowan, 34, worked at insane 8 clothing, according to her Facebook page, and had 5-year-old son named Jett, the Austin newspaper said.

Nichols' ballooning operations in Missouri also came under scrutiny by the Better Business Bureau, which in 2008 issued a warning to consumers about booking flights with his company, Air Balloon Sports. She said she and other family members kept trying to call her brother, but they never heard back. The gondola burned but the actual balloon (also called the envelope) was found nearby with the top vent open and cables positioned to open the vent, Sumwalt said.

Sumwalt said Monday that the balloon that crashed Saturday appeared to have struck the tops of power lines above a pasture near Lockhart, Texas.

After take off the crews communicated with the balloon's pilot by a smartphone app. When the conversation stopped the ground crew acted. "I could have jumped myself, but I was too preoccupied with putting out the fire, which was like a monster", he said. The balloon plunged about 300 meters (1,000 feet) to the ground, crashing in a sugar cane field, they said.

Nichols moved to Texas in 2014. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Rowan said his entire family is devastated and in disbelief but not pointing fingers.

Several of Nichols' drunken driving convictions, as well as his drug crime conviction, happened after he'd been licensed as a balloon pilot. The woman suffered neck and back injuries.

Nichols contended that the balloon began to drop because of a lack of wind.

"I feel they are plenty strict enough... the only thing that would make it a lot safer is if all the power lines were underground", Tadolini said.

As part of the case, Patton said he learned from the Missouri Department of Revenue that Nichols' driver's license had been suspended for 10 years due to the 2002 drunken-driving conviction.

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