Two years after a hot air balloon crash in Lockhart, Texas killed 16 people, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would hold balloon pilots to the same medical standards as pilots of private airplanes.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex), said the bill “will help save lives in the future,” according to USA Today. The bill has moved to the Senate for review.
The hot air balloon crash, the worst balloon crash in U.S. history, occurred on July 30, 2016, near the town of Lockhart, which is in Sen. Doggett’s district. Lockhart is located about 30 miles south of Austin.
Alfred “Skip” Nichols, the pilot of a hot air balloon, had been taking at least 10 different prescription drugs, including oxycodone, which should have prevented him from flying. Mr. Nichols took the drugs to treat a slew of medical problems, including high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, depression, attention deficit disorder, insomnia, fibromyalgia, and chronic back pain.
An autopsy report showed that the 49-year-old pilot had opioids and several other drugs in his system the day of the crash, likely impairing his ability to make sound decisions and safely command the hot air balloon.
The balloon descended rapidly through clouds and fog and became entangled in high-voltage power lines, causing it to catch fire and sending the basket plunging to the ground. Mr. Nichols and all 15 passengers aboard were killed at the scene.
A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation of the crash determined that the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) lack of regulations requiring balloon pilots to undergo medical testing contributed to the crash.
Despite the NTSB’s urgent recommendations, the FAA failed to act.
“It is clear that only legislative action by us will address this problem,” Rep. Doggett said. “The grief, the horror that these families experienced, many of them want to channel that into seeing that no other family faces a similar crisis.”
The Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2018 contains an amendment requiring medical certifications for hot air balloon pilots.