The pilot was Skip Nichols, 49, according to Alan Lirette, who identified Nichols as his boss, best friend and roommate. The partial frame of a hot air balloon is visible above a crop field as investigators comb the wreckage of a crash Saturday, July 30, 2016, in Central Texas near Lockhart, Texas.
Speaking to the AP from a house he shared with Nichols in Kyle, Lirette would not answer specific questions about the balloon’s launch or its crash. Calls to Heart of Texas operations manager Sarah Nichols, 72, rang unanswered, and a woman in Missouri believed to be the pilot’s sister did not return calls seeking comment.
Heart of Texas’ website said it offers rides in the San Antonio, Houston and Austin areas.
They also will look into whether the operator filed a passenger manifest before taking off, Sumwalt said. The NTSB is interested in any cellphone video of the flight from witnesses, and investigators will look for devices in the wreckage that might contain video shot by passengers. Warning about potential high-fatality accidents, safety investigators recommended two years ago that the Federal Aviation Administration impose greater oversight on commercial hot air balloon operators, government documents show.


The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly. Lirette said he helped launch the balloon, which was carrying a total of 16 people, none of them children. The crash site was near a row of high-tension power lines, and aerial photos showed an area of scorched land underneath.
The company’s Facebook page has photos of a hot air balloon flying with a smiley face with sunglasses on it, people waving from a large basket on the ground, and group selfies taken while aloft. The investigation will include the balloon’s maintenance history and the weather at the time of the crash.
In 2013, 19 people were killed and two were injured when a balloon caught fire over Luxor, Egypt, and plunged 1,000 feet.



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