The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in charge of the investigation into the worst hot-air balloon crash in United States history. The central Texas disaster claimed the lives of all 16 individuals on-board. Texas Governor Greg Abbott extended his condolences to the families as he described the accident as a “heartbreaking tragedy.”
Crash South of Austin
The crash occurred near Lockhart, Texas, at approximately 7:40 a.m. on Saturday, July 30. A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesperson said the basket caught fire while still in the air, according to the New York Times. A 66-year-old woman, who lived approximately 1/4 mile from the site of the crash, said she was letting her dog outside when she heard a “pop, pop, pop” sound. She said a fireball erupted as the balloon hit the ground, and the flames almost reached overhead power lines.
At a news conference, an NTSB official said the balloon was on a tour conducted by a company called Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Some details were not known, because commercial balloon operators are not required to file flight plans like those required of commercial aircraft operators. The federal investigation will benefit from the services of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the collecting and analyzing of evidence.
One of Worst Balloon Disasters Globally
Only a February 2013 hot-air balloon crash in Luxor, Egypt, took more lives. In that incident, 19 people perished. A 1993 accident near Aspen, Colorado, killed six when a wind gust sent a hot air balloon into a power line. The power line severed the lines attaching the balloon to the basket, causing it to fall more than 100 feet to the ground.
The NTSB investigated 760 hot-air balloon accidents that happened between 1964 and 2013. Of these, 67 were fatal accidents. Many hot-air balloon crashes are related to wind, adverse weather and/or contact with power lines.
Previous NTSB Recommendations Rejected
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for regulations governing hot-air balloon operations. Such balloons use propane gas to heat air to generate lift. USA Today reports that, in 2014, the head of the NTSB sent a letter to the FAA, noting the fact that balloon operators are not regulated in the same manner as helicopter pilots and commercial aircraft pilots. One of the contentious issues is the letter of authorization (LOA) which results in periodic surveillance of commercial plane and helicopter pilots.
In part, the letter stated, “The NTSB concludes that passengers who hire air tour balloon operators should have the benefit of a similar level of safety oversight as passengers of air to her airplane and helicopter operations.” However, the FAA did not act on the recommendations.
In March 2016, the NTSB repeated its suggestions, citing the fact that more than two dozen additional balloon accidents had occurred since the delivery of the 2014 letter.
Although every accident is unique, when it is reasonable to claim that negligence led to a fatality, it is often possible for survivors to seek compensation by filing a wrongful death lawsuit. Such litigation seeks monetary damages for medical costs, pain, suffering, loss of companionship and burial expenses. Laws vary from state to state, but it is also possible to seek punitive damages in certain cases where gross negligence is found to have caused a fatality.
If a family member or someone you know dies in an accident, it is possible to discuss the details from a legal perspective with an attorney focused on relevant areas of the law. Our firm provides such a consultation free of charge and without obligation. We fight hard to get our clients the full compensation they deserve under the law. To ask your questions, and to learn more about our legal services, please contact us.