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Texas Personal Injury News

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hot Air Balloon Crashes in Texas, Kills 16 People

Was the pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed in Texas responsible?

As idyllic as hot air balloon rides may seem, they involve risks, just like any other form of transportation. As a matter of fact, they appear to involve far greater risks. As far back as 2013, a report by an FAA safety official vigorously recommended that the same level of oversight be applied to the commercial balloon industry as to airplane and helicopter tour companies, but that recommendation has not yet being followed. Stories like the recent one concerning the deaths of 16 people in the crash of a hot air balloon near Lockhart, Texas may give pause to potential passengers who wonder whether the spectacular views are worth risking their lives for.

If you or a loved one has suffered serious personal injury as a result of an accident due to the negligence of another, you have legal recourse to obtain compensation for your medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering. In such situations, you should contact a highly skilled attorney as soon as possible.

The Disturbing Details Concerning the Pilot of this Balloon Crash

It turns out the pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed this past July, Alfred "Skip" Nichols, was permitted to pilot that balloon in spite of:

  • Having received at least four convictions for drunk driving in Missouri
  • Twice having been imprisoned
  • Having been twice stripped of his driver's license, each time for 10 years
  • Having complaints filed against him for canceling numerous balloon trips without refunds
  • Having complaints against his balloon-ride companies in Illinois and Missouri going back to 1997

Horribly for the victims of this crash, there were red flags galore indicating that Nichols shouldn't have been piloting a balloon. As an injured victim of a crash 3 years ago in the suburbs of St. Louis declared in her court case against him, "He couldn't drive a car, but he could pilot a hot air balloon."

How do credentials differ for hot air balloon pilots and commercial airplane pilots?

Amazingly, pilots applying for a balloon piloting certificate are only required to disclose drug, and not drunk driving, convictions. If Nichols had been a pilot of a commercial airline, he would have been grounded a long time ago, but tragically the laws have not caught up with his situation. While the FAA might permit a recovering alcoholic to fly commercial jets if the pilot could demonstrate successfully completed treatment, it is highly unlikely that an airline pilot who had previous convictions for DUI would be allowed to pilot a commercial aircraft.

Unlike other pilots, balloon pilots do not even have to get regular medical exams from FAA-certified examiners. They are only required to write a statement certifying that they have “no medical defect” that would limit their ability to pilot a balloon, whereas commercial plane pilots must answer questions on alcohol dependence or abuse and convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The obvious flaws and inequities in the law put the public at terrible risk of injury in hot air balloon rides. If you have been injured, or if someone you love has suffered a wrongful death, as the result of a balloon or other pilot's negligence, you should contact a competent personal injury attorney to make certain you receive the compensation you deserve.


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Chandler, Mathis & Zivley, PC has offices located in Houston and Lufkin Texas and serves clients throughout East Texas as well as many other states.
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