The pilot of a hot-air balloon that crashed in New Mexico was found to have cocaine and cannabis in his system, leading to the tragic deaths of all five people on board. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded in its final report that the pilot’s recent drug use likely impaired his abilities, contributing to the June 26, 2021, accident.
According to the NTSB, the 62-year-old pilot, Nicholas Meleski, failed to maintain enough clearance from power lines while attempting to land in Albuquerque. There was no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures. The basket detached from the balloon, causing it to plummet 100 feet to the ground and resulting in the deaths of Meleski, Susan Montoya, 65, her husband, John Montoya, 61, Martin Martinez, 59, and his wife, Mary, 62.
John Montoya initially survived the fall but later succumbed to his injuries at the University of New Mexico Hospital. The families of the victims expressed their deep grief and sadness for the pain caused by the accident. They also thanked the hot-air ballooning community for their support.
Martin Martinez, one of the victims, was a retired police officer who had worked for the city of Albuquerque and later for its public school system. Susan Montoya was an assistant school principal, and her husband worked with special-education students.
This balloon crash was the deadliest in New Mexico’s history and the second-deadliest in the United States since 2016. Albuquerque is known for its annual international balloon fiesta, which attracts thousands of spectators every October.
The incident highlights the importance of pilot safety and adherence to regulations, as well as the potential dangers of drug use in aviation. It serves as a reminder to prioritize the well-being of passengers and the public when operating any form of aircraft.