SAN ANTONIO (AP) — An investigation by the San Antonio Express-News has found that U.S. regulators ignored expert warnings that hot-air balloons like one that crashed in July in Texas, killing 16 people, have higher accident rates than other aircraft and similar fatality rates.
The newspaper said its review of government documents and internal emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and testimony given at a federal hearing show a “bleak picture of missed opportunities.” The Express-News conducted a five-month investigation of the crash.
The Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t require balloon pilots to take drug tests or undergo medical evaluations like other pilots. It instead relies on an honor system that the pilot of the doomed balloon, Alfred “Skip” Nichols, foiled.
Nichols obtained his balloon pilot’s license in Missouri in 1996.