Published: Wed, August 03, 2016
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Pilot in hot air balloon crash had convictions, complaints

Pilot in hot air balloon crash had convictions, complaints

As Nashville grows, more than a dozen hot air balloon pilots turn to rural Tennessee for their backdrop instead of the Nashville skyline.

Nichols, who had been stripped of his driver's license at least twice, "couldn't drive a vehicle but he could pilot a hot air balloon", said an attorney who represented a passenger who sued Nichols in 2013.

Nichols, 49, had a significant history of complaints against his balloon-ride companies in IL and Missourri as far back as 1997. Customers said the company would cancel rides at the last minute and never refund money, reschedule or return calls.

In a lawsuit filed against Nichols in 2013, a passenger said she was hurt when Nichols crash-landed a balloon in the St. Louis suburbs.

Several of Nichols' drunken driving convictions, as well as his drug crime conviction, happened after he'd been licensed as a balloon pilot.

"DWIs are disqualifying when you're required to have a FAA medical".

But balloon pilots do not have to get regular medical exams from FAA-certified examiners. "You're really self-policing. You're the one asserting that you're fit to fly".

"After they receive a license, all pilots are supposed to notify the FAA within 60 days of a drug or alcohol conviction", the AP writes.

Organizer Matt Lowney says there are important security steps when dealing with the massive balloons.

A member of the National Transportation Safety Board has criticized what he called a "disparity" in the FAA requirements for hot air balloon operators compared to airplane or helicopter pilots.

Nichols also had a lengthy history of drinking and driving, according to court records.

FAA regulations say recreational aircraft pilots need only a valid driver's license to certify their medical status, and balloonists need even less than that: "glider" and "free balloon" pilots need not apply for a medical certificate at all. She helps set up and is responsible for watching for obstructions where the balloon will land.

But what if something like a power line looms in a balloon's path? His first drunken-driving conviction came in St. Louis County in 1990, followed by two more convictions in 2002 and a fourth in 2010, according to online court records. He was returned to prison in April 2010 after his parole was revoked because of his drunken-driving conviction that year.

2012: Nichols was paroled in January.

Nichols contended that the balloon began to drop because of a lack of wind.

Wendy Bartch, an ex-girlfriend, described him as a recovering alcoholic.

Saturday's crash was foreshadowed over two years ago when the NTSB warned the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) via letter to strengthen regulations in the hot air balloon tourism industry.

Uninsulated power lines pose a threat to hot air balloons by causing sparks that can burn a balloon's envelope or ignite its fuel tank. They include cell phones, one iPad, and three cameras. The injured passengers were taken by ambulance to a hospital.

The name of the pilot involved in the 2014 crash wasn't included in the records.

Over the weekend, 16 people were killed in the deadliest hot air balloon accident in USA history reminding people to be safe when operating the balloons. She said he had been sober for at least four years and never piloted a balloon after drinking. She says, "having other people's lives at stake was Skip's primary concern". She said he was lighthearted, a follower of the Grateful Dead.

Before setting up operations in Texas in 2014, Nichols had extensive criminal and business troubles in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.

Among the 16 people who were killed in a hot air balloon crash in Texas over the weekend were a couple celebrating their 17th wedding anniversary, a researcher whose work focused on treating burn victims and a woman who.

The Caldwell County Sheriff's office said Monday that there was only one call placed to 911 following the crash.

Investigators are still looking into Saturday's incident. Investigators believe the balloon hit the powerline wires, killing everyone onboard.

Previously, the worst hot air balloon accident in USA history was a 1993 crash that occurred near Aspen, Colorado and killed all six people on board.

Authorities haven't identified the pilot, but his roommate and friend confirms the pilot was 49-year-old Alfred "Skip" Nichols. "Sunday was a very social person", Jones said.

A Missouri police officer tells The Associated Press that Nichols was arrested there in 2000 on a felony driving-while-intoxicated charge. The case was resolved two years later when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

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