The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Lockhart, Texas, in July, killing all 16 people aboard was sued by a family over a similar accident that happened years before in Missouri, according to a Kansas City investigative report.
KSHB 41 Action News reporters discovered court records from a lawsuit filed in 2012 against Air Balloon Sports, LLC, a Missouri-based hot air balloon company of which Alfred “Skip” Nichols, the pilot in the deadly Texas crash, was an owner.
Court documents show that in 2009, Mr. Nichols took a family of three on a balloon ride in Jefferson County, Mo. The family had purchased a Groupon for the ride.
“At some point during the ride, Nichols told the family he was running out of fuel. The balloon, according to the documents, landed in some trees. The people onboard had to pull at the branches to get the balloon free. It then proceeded to fall to the ground from 80 feet in the air.”
Mr. Nichols told the judge during the deposition that the balloon was drifting toward some power lines, prompting his decision to begin a rapid descent.
One of the family members was injured in that crash. The family was awarded $10,000
Investigators have yet to determine why Mr. Nichols’ “Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides” balloon crashed in Texas July 30, but they have said it appears he tried to descend through a break in the clouds, not realizing that it put the balloon on a collision course with high-voltage electrical towers below.
Based on accounts from people on the ground, the balloon likely caught fire, sending the basket plunging to the ground. The crash was one of the deadliest hot air balloon accidents in the world, second only to a crash that killed 19 people in Luxor, Egypt, in February 2013.
A lawyer for the family in the Missouri crash case told KSHB that, considering Mr. Nichols’ criminal history, he regrets not doing more to keep Mr. Nichols from flying others in hot air balloons.
“I wish I would have done more to get this guy’s license permanently suspended,” the lawyer told KSHB.