Balloon Pilot Was Convicted Of Drunken Driving 4 Times

LOCKHART, Texas (AP) -

The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Texas, killing 16 people, was able to keep flying despite having at least four convictions for drunken driving in Missouri and twice spending time in prison.

Whether the pilot’s drinking habits had anything to do with the crash is unclear.

Nichols, who had been stripped of his driver’s license at least twice, “couldn’t drive a car but he could pilot a hot-air balloon,” said an attorney who represented a passenger who sued Nichols in 2013. The passenger said she was hurt when Nichols crash-landed a balloon in the St. Louis suburbs.

When pilots apply for a ballooning certificate with the Federal Aviation Administration, they are not required to disclose any prior drunken driving convictions, only drug convictions, said Balloon Federation of America spokesman Patrick Cannon, who called that a loophole in the law.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating.