Update: Balloon crash pilot convicted of drinking and driving 4 times

The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Lockhart early Saturday morning, killing himself and the 15 passengers on board, had at least 4 convictions for drunken driving in Missouri and spent time in prison twice.

Authorities say the balloon, which was being operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, crashed into a pasture after striking high-tension power lines.

Alfred ‘Skip’ Nichols has previously been stripped of his driver’s license at least twice and “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.

Nichols also had a series of customer complaints against his balloon-ride companies in Missouri and Illinois dating back to 1997. Customers filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau stating that their rides were canceled last minute and they wouldn’t be refunded for their tickets.

The 49-year-old previously plead guilty to driving while intoxicated in St. Louis County in 1990, then twice in 2002, and again in 2010, according to online court records.

He was also convicted of a drug-related office in 2000 and spent a year and a half in prison before being paroled. He was returned to prison in April of 2010 after his parole was revoked because of his drunken driving conviction that year. He was later paroled in January 2012.

Unlike airplane pilots, balloonists are not required to disclose any prior drinking and driving convictions when applying for certification.

According to Nichols’ former girlfriend, the pilot did not fly when he wasn’t supposed to and having other people’s lives at stake was his primary concern.

After an initial investigation, the NTSB found “no evidence of pre-existing failures, malfunctions or problems with the balloon.

The balloon was designated to carry up to 4,400 pounds, which is likely to have been more than enough for the pilot and his passengers. According to Nichols roommate and co-worker Alan Lirette who helped launch the balloon, the craft was designed up take up to 16 passengers plus the pilot.

The bodies of the 15 passengers have yet to be officially identified. Officials says that the process may take some time due to the condition of the remains.

For more on this developing story, click here.


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