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Hot air balloon crash pilot had numerous drink-driving and drug convictions

Hot air balloon crash pilot had numerous drink-driving and drug convictions”

But the weekend accident that killed 16 people in Texas is a reminder that ballooning isn't the safest way to spend an afternoon.

NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the immediate focus of the investigation would be gathering witness testimony, starting with the ground crew on Monday.

VIDEO: Family fears loved ones were on board crashed balloonAuthorities say the balloon, which was operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, hit high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture Saturday near Lockhart, about 60 miles northeast of San Antonio. The balloon clippped power lines at around 7:42 a.m., and the first call to 911 came in around a minute later, he said.

It reportedly was foggy after Saturday morning's accident, but that it wasn't clear what the weather was like during the flight itself.

The ex-girlfriend of a hot air balloon pilot involved in a deadly Texas crash says he was in recovery for alcoholism and had been sober at least four years.

Lirette, the ground crew supervisor for the balloon operator, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, described Nichols as his "best friend, boss and roommate". The family members of the Rowans were some of the first to confirm the couple was on board - alongside a preschool teacher, her husband and a mother/daughter duo celebrating a belated Mother's Day - as officials scrambled to notify families, a process made more hard because there was no official participant list to ease the confirmation process, reported the Associated Press.

A former girlfriend of Mr Nichols told the Austin Statesman news site he was highly experienced and took safety very seriously.

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"The NTSB feels there needs to greater oversight by the regulator", or the FAA, he said. "They were unbelievable people and they were full of life and full of joy", Josh Rowan said.

A GoFundMe for the Brian and Tressie Neill, 45 and 43, identified them as passengers, saying that they were celebrating their 23rd annive and leave behind two daughters, 20 and 16.

"All of us were sort of calling them and texting them and messaging them and just trying to get anything back and just sort of time went on and we didn't hear anything", Josh Rowan said of his brother and sister-in-law. He said the pilot was licensed to fly the balloon, but that it was too soon to say whether he had a criminal history.

Following his 2010 conviction for drink-driving, he was sentenced to seven years behind bars and was released on parole in January 2012 after less than a year and a half. Operators must also keep maintenance records for the balloon, heating units, and other equipment.

The deadliest hot air balloon crash in United States history has resurfaced calls by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to further regulate hot air ballooning.

According to an online Federal Aviation Administration database, Alfred G. Nichols of Chesterfield, Missouri, was medically certified to fly in July 1996 and was rated a commercial pilot of lighter-than-airballoons on July 14, 2010. She checked the news and saw there had been a balloon accident.

In April 2014, Deborah Hersman, then the chairman of the NTSB, sent a letter to FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta calling for greater oversight on commercial balloon operators.

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More is also being learned about the victims of the doomed balloon.

"I looked around and it was like a fireball going up", she said, noting that the fireball was under large power lines and nearly high enough to reach the bottom of them.

She said that after she and Nichols broke up, they remained friends, and she helped him move to Texas in 2014.

She added an emoji heart.

A police officer from Missouri said to the Associated Press that Nichols had been arrested in 2000 on a charge of felony driving while intoxicated.

The scene of the fatal balloon crash can be seen from a distance above.

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