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Thursday, December 29, 2016

NTSB: Lockhart hot air balloon pilot in deadly crash knew weather was dangerous

What factors can lead to a liability finding in aviation accidents?

Every year millions of people place their faith in the competence of aircraft pilots to get them safely from one point to another. In most cases, that faith is well placed, despite reports of accidents. Like any other accident, aviation accidents happen despite the best efforts of all involved. Unfortunately, there are cases in which our faith is misplaced and we unwittingly place our lives in the hands of those who are truly not worthy.

Such was the case for 16 individuals who lost their lives this past July when the hot air balloon that they were travelling in hit power lines, caught fire and crashed near Lockhart. Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) held an investigative hearing this past November to determine the circumstances of the crash.

The Pilot

According to the NTSB, the pilot of the hot air balloon, Alfred Nichols IV, knew that weather conditions were dangerous before taking off. Despite warnings of a dropping dew point, which is a critical factor in determining safe ballooning conditions, Nichols replied, “We find a hole and we go.”

In addition to making cavalier decisions with regard to flight condition, it was later found that Nichols had a cocktail of prescription drugs in his system at the time of the crash, including Ritalin, oxycodone, diazepam (Valium), cyclobenzaprine, dextromethorphan (cough syrup) and antihistamines.

The Company

Experts agree that safety is the priority among hot air balloon pilots. However, the company that hired Nichols to fly the hot air balloon, Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, is not accredited with the Better Business Bureau and has a D+ rating with the organization. It is less than shocking that they would hire a man to fly a hot air balloon who was arrested in 2000 for felony drunk driving.

Determining Liability in Aviation Accidents

Determining liability in aviation accidents is a matter of reviewing the duties of the actors involved, in conjunction with their behavior. To successfully make a case for negligence, you have to prove that:

  1. There was a duty owed,
  2. That duty was breached,
  3. That breach caused an injury,
  4. For which there are recoverable damages.

Using the hot air balloon situation as an example, we can see that both the hot air balloon company and the pilot had duties to their clients, namely to act in a reasonable fashion. Was the hot air balloon company reasonable in hiring a pilot with a known history of operating vehicles while intoxicated? Was the hot air balloon company reasonable in allowing a pilot to fly customers during bad weather conditions? Was the pilot acting reasonably in flying clients in a hot air balloon while he was clearly intoxicated? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding “no.” All of these actions constituted a breach of duty that caused the death of 16 people. Their estates should have little trouble proving negligence in this case.

Injured in an Aviation Accident?

If you or someone you care about has been injured in an aviation accident, call Sawicki Law today at 888-468-8844 for a free consultation.


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