Pilot in balloon crash that killed 5 had used cocaine and marijuana, FAA says


The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed into power lines in Albuquerque in June, killing him and all four passengers, had cocaine and marijuana in his system, according to a toxicology report released Wednesday.

Blood and urine samples from pilot Nicholas Meleski, 62, showed the presence of the drugs, the Federal Aviation Administration said in the report, which the agency released as part of a request for public records.

Although no alcohol was found in the samples, cocaethylene, a compound formed when the liver metabolizes cocaine in the presence of ethanol, was also found in his urine, but not in his blood. The FAA made no comment outside of the report.

The balloon piloted by Mr. Meleski hit power lines at 7:07 a.m. local time on June 26, about six miles west of the Albuquerque International Sunport airport, causing the gondola to detach from the balloon’s envelope and fall about 30 feet, researchers said.

A cause of the accident has not yet been determined by the National Transportation Safety Board, which has a preliminary report on the crash in July.

In a statement issued to the television station KOB4Members of the Meleski family said they were evaluating the results of the toxicology report and asked for privacy.

The passengers who died in the crash were identified by authorities as Susan Montoya, 65; Maria Sisneros-Martinez, 59; Martin Martinez, 62; and John Montoya, 61.

A hot air balloon ride was on Ms. Montoya’s “bucket list,” and the staff at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School, where she worked as an assistant principal, bought the ride for her and three guests, Scott Elder, the superintendent of the Albuquerque Public Schools , said at a press conference at the time.

Ms. Montoya transferred to another school next year and this was a parting gift for her, he said.

“Never before have we experienced the loss of so many people in one incident,” said Mr Elder.

Mr. Meleski was the father of a counselor in the school district, according to the inspector.

In a statement to KOB4, Manny Sisneros, a brother of Ms. Sisneros-Martinez, called for stricter surveillance of hot air balloon pilots.

“Nicholas Meleski clearly did not consider all the people whose lives he destroyed as a result of his drug use,” said Mr. sisneros. “We are aware that the drugs in his system may not have caused the crash, but having cocaine and marijuana in his system may have been one of the contributing factors.”

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