U.S. News


Pilot had cocaine in system at time of deadly hot air balloon crash

Four passengers and the pilot died when the hot air balloon crashed into overhead lines in New Mexico in 2021.
Hot air balloon envelope laying on the private residence’s rooftop.
Posted at 2:24 PM, Aug 21, 2023

A new report released by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the pilot who was in control of a hot air balloon that crashed in New Mexico in 2021 had cocaine in his system. 

The report released last week came more than two years after the June 26, 2021 crash near Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

The NTSB said that the pilot and four passengers died after the balloon crashed. 

The NTSB's report indicated that the balloon struck electric wires about 78 feet off the ground. 

"A review of surveillance video from a local business revealed that the balloon began a climb

before the intersection, with the power lines across the road," the report said. Video then depicted the balloon descending into the power lines as it crossed about perpendicular to the wires. Shortly thereafter, the balloon contacted a high-tension power line, an arc appeared, and the basket separated from the envelope and subsequently impacted the road."

NTSB says miscommunication caused flight to approach ocean's surface
United Airlines airplane takes off over a plane on the runway.

NTSB says miscommunication caused flight to approach ocean's surface

The National Transportation Safety Board said the crew failed in managing the aircraft's vertical path, nose direction and airspeed.


Pilot Nicholas Meleski's family released a statement to KOB-TV.

"We thank the National Transportation Safety Board for the effort and time spent on the investigation of the tragic accident. We cannot express the depth of our grief and sadness for the pain this accident has caused — our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the passengers," they said. 

Federal data shows hot air balloon deaths are relatively rare. From 2000 through 2011, there were 78 crashes involving hot air balloons. Only five fatalities were associated with those crashes.