The Latest: NTSB says Benadryl impaired balloon operator

October 17, 2017

FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2016, file photo, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Robert Sumwalt speaks during a news conference at the scene of the worst hot air balloon crash in U.S. history that killed 16 people in July 2016 near Lockhart, Texas. The crash could result in federal investigators to call for hot air balloon pilots to obtain medical certificates. (Deborah Cannon/Austin American-Statesman via AP File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Latest on a federal investigation into a 2016 Texas hot air balloon crash that killed 16 people, the worst disaster of its kind in U.S. history (all times local):


10:15 a.m.

Investigators say the pilot of a Texas hot air balloon that crashed and killed 16 people flew with enough Benadryl in his system to have the equivalent blood-alcohol level of a drunken driver.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said Tuesday at a hearing in Washington that pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols also took sedatives and opioids that likely affected his decision-making during the July 2016 flight.

The balloon hit high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture near Austin. It was the worst hot-air balloon disaster in U.S. history.

Investigators say Nichols was told during a weather briefing before the flight that clouds may be a problem. But he allegedly replied, “we just fly in between them.”

Nichols had at least four convictions for drunken driving and twice spent time in prison.


12:05 a.m.

A Texas lawmaker expects federal investigators to call for hot air balloon pilots to obtain medical certificates following a crash last year that killed 16 people.

The July 2016 crash in a pasture near Austin, Texas, was the worst hot air balloon disaster in U.S. history.

The National Transportation Safety Board could recommend new safety regulations at a hearing Tuesday in Washington. Medical experts have said the pilot of the Texas balloon should have been grounded because of medical ailments and drug use.

Republican John Cyrier (SEER’-ee-yay) is a Texas lawmaker whose district includes the crash site. He thinks the NTSB will recommend that commercial hot air balloon pilots get the same medical screenings as those flying planes or helicopters.

The Federal Aviation Administration must ultimately approve any new oversight.

Update hourly