NTSB: Lockhart hot air balloon hit power lines before crash

Federal investigators now say the hot air balloon in Lockhart made contact with high tension power lines at multiple points after it began its descent and ultimately killed 16 people.

Collecting information on site is winding down, with the gondola and balloon sent to Dallas for storage. But investigators say the investigation is just beginning and are reluctant to speculate about why the balloon made contact with power lines

Federal investigators eliminated possible causes of what lead to the deadly hot air balloon crash Saturday morning.

“There's evidence of multiple points of contact, evidence of arching.” said Robert Sumwalt, investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. “And for about 30 feet along the wires, there's evidence of abrasion.”

Court records show the pilot, 49-year-old Alfred "Skip" Nichols was convicted of drunken driving at least four times in Missouri and spent time in prison twice since 1990.

In 2013, Nichols settled a personal injury lawsuit by a passenger injured in a hard landing outside St. Louis.

Investigators say Nichols got a weather briefing the night before, and his crew reported patchy fog the next morning. But so far, it’s unclear if weather or pilot error played a role in the crash.

NTSB investigators near recovered 14 personal electronic devices, including cell phones, an iPad and three cameras, which will be sent to a lab for analysis.

Friends and family have identified several of those killed, like newlyweds Sunday and Matt Rowan of San Antonio.

Sunday's mom said she got a terrible feeling when communication that morning suddenly stopped.

“Pretty much at that time, to be frank, I knew something was terribly wrong,” she said.

Joe and Teresa Owens of Katy were also among the dead. Teresa worked for 20 years caring for infants at Tigerland Child Care Center in Katy, near Houston.       

Friends say 50-year-old Holly Smith Huckabee, Teresa’s good friend and the mother of a fellow teacher at the center, was also aboard the doomed balloon.

As far as the pilot's criminal history is concerned, the NTSB spokesman said to his knowledge, there was no requirement for a balloon pilot to report criminal background to the FAA. He said the NTSB had recommended that balloon pilots be required to get a medical certificate every 6 months like other pilots, but the FAA declined to implement that recommendation.

 

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