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Balloon pilot had 4 DWIs, officials say

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(CNN)The pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed in Texas, killing all 16 people on board, had four drunken driving convictions in Missouri and spent time in prison for drugs, law enforcement officials said.

In addition, pilot Alfred “Skip” Nichols’ driver’s license had been suspended twice and he was sued over a 2009 balloon landing that a passenger said left her injured, documents show.
Nichols didn’t have to tell the FAA about those problems because oversight for balloon pilots is not as stringent as for airline or helicopter pilots, the National Transportation Safety Board said. They are expected to self-report any drug or alcohol driving offenses within 60 days, the FAA says.
    Unlike pilots for other aircraft, balloon pilots are not required to obtain an FAA medical certificate to fly, NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said Monday at a news conference.
    Those certificates, which can expire after a few years, require pilots to answer whether they’ve been arrested recently for drunken driving and have alcohol problems, Sumwalt said.
    Nichols’ drug and DWI convictions happened more than eight years ago.

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    At the time of that crash, Nichols’ driver’s license was suspended, he said in the deposition.
    Nichols’ driver’s license was suspended for 10 years in 2010 due to a number of driving infractions, according to an official with the Missouri Department of Revenue. In a deposition in a civil suit, Nichols said he later received a second suspension.
    He was convicted of a drug crime in 2000, court records show. The records don’t specify what kind of drug, but in the deposition Nichols said the conviction was for possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
    Sumwalt said Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides had a previous crash with a balloon.
    FAA records show the balloon “made a hard landing” on August 3, 2014, in a church soccer field in Kyle, Texas, injuring two female passengers. The pilot had to “land short” to avoid striking the retrieval team vehicle, which was parked in the path of the balloon, records show.
    Records didn’t name the pilot, but Sumwalt said it was not Nichols and the hot air balloon was not the one that crashed Saturday.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/02/us/texas-hot-air-balloon-pilot/index.html

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