More than fourteen months after a balloon crash into power lines near Lockhart, Texas, took the lives of sixteen people, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a report blaming the pilot but also blasting the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for exempting balloon operators from the medical certification regulations applied to other commercial pilots.
The NTSB has called on the FAA to close this dangerous loophole.
The ill-fated flight began at 6:58 a.m. on July 30, 2016, and ended at 7:42 a.m. when the balloon crashed into power lines the pilot didn’t see as he descended into clouds and fog. The victims died in the resulting fire and multi-story fall after the collision.
The pilot had reportedly taken off despite worsening conditions and without current weather information. The accumulation of pilot errors was the main cause of the crash, the NTSB ruled.
The pilot was also on numerous medications to treat multiple issues, including depression, attention deficit disorder, and back pain. Use of some of these medications, including oxycodone, should have immediately disqualified the pilot from flying. In fact, an NTSB medical officer expressed the opinion that the drugs in the pilot’s system probably led to impairment about the same as that of a drunk driver.
In addition to the pilot’s poor decisions and drug impairment, the NTSB report also found that the FAA’s lack of medical certification was a contributing factor in the crash.
The NTSB had asked the FAA to impose stricter regulation on commercial balloon operators more than two years before the Lockhart tragedy. Those recommendations were based on NTSB investigations of several previous balloon crashes that led to serious injuries and the death of a pilot.
Unfortunately for the passengers and pilot in Lockhart, the FAA declined to expand the regulations—which apply to all other aviation tour operators—to balloons. Ironically, their 2015 response noted that “there are no known links that suggest the use of medications or drugs not approved by the FAA are a contributor to balloon accidents.”
The FAA has said that the NTSB recommendations would not have made a difference in this crash, noting that the pilot in the Lockhart crash concealed medical information. Others have pointed out that the FAA discovered this information after the crash and that, if they’d had a better system in place, even simple background checks might have discovered it before the crash.
This kind of accident is unusual, but people are harmed or killed every day because of the negligent or reckless actions of others. It doesn’t matter if an injury is inflicted in a car crash, a boat crash, a balloon crash, a dog attack, or slip-and-fall accident. If you’ve been a victim because of someone else’s dangerous actions—or inaction—you may be entitled to recover damages to help with your recovery.
The attorneys at Denena Points, PC understand all sorts of personal injury situations, and we’re available to give you a free consultation about your case. Give us a call at 713-807-9500 or fill out our contact form today to find out what we can do for you.