Contributing to the accident were Alfred "Skip" Nichols' impairing medical conditions and medications that likely affected his decision-making.
"When we looked at the amount of Diphenhydramine in his blood at the time of the crash it was right at the therapeutic level, said NTSB Investigator Nick Webster".
The balloon #crash which occurred in July 2016 near Austin, Texas, claimed all 16 passengers on board, including the pilot, who ignored weather reports [VIDEO] and flew the balloon into power lines, causing the balloon to catch fire and crash, NBC News reported.
The National Transportation Safety Board is getting tough on incompetent hot air balloon pilots.
Nichols blithely brushed off warnings about clouds during a weather briefing ahead of the deadly, July 30, 2016, flight outside Lockhart, Texas, the NTSB revealed during a briefing in Washington. The pilot's decision to then attempt to land in reduced visibility conditions diminished his ability to see and avoid obstacles and resulted in the balloon impacting power lines. The AP has reported that balloon pilots now are only required to write a statement certifying that they have "no medical defect" that would limit their ability to pilot a balloon.
Balloon pilots are not required to obtain a pilot medical certificate, but can not operate if they have certain medical conditions.
This eliminates the potential opportunity for an aviation medical examiner to identify the pilot's potentially impairing medical conditions and medications.
The NTSB said the FAA should require medical certificates for balloon pilots and find "more effective ways to target oversight" of balloon pilots "that pose the most significant safety risk to the public".
Sumwalt said the FAA's embrace of industry-led, voluntary safety reforms and rejection of NTSB recommendations was "sad".
In a possible signal that the FAA plans to reject NTSB safety recommendations expected to be released Tuesday, the agency said in a press release that it believes "the BFA program will enhance safety and professionalism, and will allow consumers to be better informed before they choose a commercial balloon ride operator". "Balloon pilots, their passengers, and their passengers' loved ones deserve no less".
Investigators also found that Nichols had hidden a lengthy criminal history from the Federal Aviation Administration that included a prison sentence for drunk driving and drug offenses.