The National Transportation Safety Board said on Sunday that a hot air balloon that crashed near Lockhart, Texas likely struck power lines before it crashed. The crash, which occurred on Saturday morning and garnered national media attention, killed all sixteen people aboard. It was the deadliest hot air balloon crash on record in the U.S., eclipsed only by a 2013 crash in Luxor, Egypt that killed 19.
The NTSB has also determined that a fire broke out on the balloon before the balloon fell into a pasture near Lockhart, but it was unclear whether the fire started before or after the balloon hit the power lines. It was also unclear why the balloon was flying low enough to strike the power lines: FAA regulations require all aircraft, including balloons, to operate at an altitude of at least 500 feet over sparsely populated areas, and to stay at least 500 feet away from any persons, vessels, vehicles, or structures. High-tension power lines are typically less than 200 feet high.
In 2014, the NTSB urged the FAA to increase regulation of the hot air balloon tour industry, requiring tour companies to obtain permits from the FAA and to subject them to the same safety inspections as other aircraft. The FAA rejected the NTSB’s request, a response the NTSB considered “unacceptable.”
To date, while balloon operators must have a pilot license, the hot air balloon tour industry is subject to few other regulations. However, they still owe their passengers, as well as people on the ground, a responsibility to fly safety. While hot air balloons are relatively simple aircraft, Saturday’s tragedy highlights the dangers involved in any kind of flying.
If you or someone you know have been injured or killed in an aviation accident, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling (713) 222-7211 or toll free at 713-222-7211.