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Pilot’s Drug Use Blamed for Fatal New Mexico Hot Air Balloon Crash


Clockwise from top left: Nick Meleski, John and Susan Montoya and Martin and Mary Martinez.

The 2021 hot air balloon crash in New Mexico that claimed the lives of all five individuals aboard has been attributed to an error made by the pilot, who was found to have cocaine and other drugs in his system at the time of the incident, according to findings by investigators.

Released this week, the final report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sheds light on the circumstances leading up to the crash. The pilot, identified as Nicholas Meleski, reportedly failed to maintain sufficient clearance from power lines during his attempted landing. This misjudgment resulted in a collision with the power lines, causing the balloon to plummet into a busy intersection. The NTSB’s report rules out mechanical issues as the cause of the crash.

The toxicology examination of Meleski’s system revealed the presence of cocaine and marijuana, suggesting recent consumption of these substances. The report highlights that this substance use likely had impairing effects on Meleski’s ability to operate the balloon safely on June 26, 2021, when the incident occurred.

In response to the NTSB’s findings, Meleski’s family issued a statement to Albuquerque station KOB-TV expressing their condolences to the families.

“We cannot express the depth of our grief and sadness for the pain this accident has caused,” the statement reads.

According to witnesses, the balloon’s envelope separated from the basket upon impact with the power lines, subsequently drifting away from the crash site and eventually being located to the south. Among the victims, Martin Martinez had served as a police officer for both the city of Albuquerque and its public school system. Mary Martinez, a mother of two, was known for her altruistic nature and dedication to aiding others. Susan Montoya held the role of assistant school principal, while her spouse was involved in working with special education students.

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