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December 14th, 2016

Texas Hot Air Balloon Case Update: NTSB Investigation Reveals Pilot Drug Use, FAA Regulations May Increase

Last month, the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) held a hearing on the investigation of the worst hot air balloon accidents in U.S. history. Over the summer, 16 passengers and the balloon’s pilot were killed when the balloon caught fire after coming into contact with power lines. The balloon then crashed to the ground, killing all of its occupants.

The accident resulted in widespread criticism of lax regulations which apply to the hot air balloon industry. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has failed to heed warnings from the NTSB about the lack of regulations. Since 2014, the NTSB has been recommending vast changes to regulations for the industry. The FAA has declined to take action. However, based on this recent accident, that may change.

More: Texas Hot Air Balloon Ride Kills 16, Regulations Enough? [A discussion about regulation of the hot air balloon industry.]

The NTSB’s investigation of the accident, which has not been completed yet, revealed that the pilot had multiple drugs in his system at the time of the accident. The drugs found in his system included diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and muscle relaxers. Others drugs in his system such as valium and narcotics would have prevented him from getting the medical clearance needed to fly an aircraft like a plane. Hot air balloon pilots do not need such a clearance.

News articles have reported that the pilot had multiple driving under the influence convictions as well as at least one arrest for drug possession. According to an article by the Washington Post, the pilot’s driver’s license was revoked in 2010. See www.washingtonpost.com, Pilot took 7 drugs — including Valium — before the deadliest balloon crash in U.S. history.

Insurance Claims

Many states, like Texas, don’t impose strict insurance requirements on the hot air balloon industry. This leaves hot air balloon operators to pick their own policies and coverage amounts. Naturally, companies will choose standard policies with the lowest premiums which means lower coverage amounts. In this case, it’s anticipated that the operator was insured with a policy providing $100,000 per person, with a maximum of $1,000,000 per event. If these amounts are correct, families of the survivors will undoubtedly suffer severe financial hardship.

Our injury attorneys have been following the recent hot air balloon accident case in Texas that occurred in July. After having handled a hot air balloon lawsuit in Virginia, our firm has taken a keen interest in the safety of the hot air balloon industry. Increased regulation is key to preventing these types of accidents. In addition, riders should be better informed about the inherent risk in riding hot air balloons. Stay tuned for more coverage and legal analysis. Visit the NTSB website for more info about the Texas hot air balloon case.

Related: Hot Air Balloon Accidents in the U.S. – A Recent History