Albuquerque balloon pilot’s explanation for demise in deadly crash identified
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – A recent autopsy report reveals what killed a balloon pilot who was involved in a fatal crash in Albuquerque that summer. However, there are still many unanswered questions. While toxicological reports released a few months ago show that pilot Nick Meleski had cocaine and THC in his system at the time of the crash, the autopsy shows that the drugs did not result in his death – from a medical emergency like a heart attack – before the balloon meets power lines.
“I haven’t seen any cases where drugs caused an airborne medical incident,” said Chris Pezalla, an aviation attorney. “The main concern is of course to perceive the environment in front of you and to make appropriate decisions.”
The balloon hit power lines on June 26, killing Meleski and his four passengers. According to OMI, Meleski died of a blunt violent trauma with multiple injuries that were a direct result of the gondola falling from more than 30 meters to the ground, calling the death an accident. Pezalla says the autopsy verdict doesn’t necessarily define the cause of the crash because there are many variables involved.
“In many accidents we find that there are several factors that can cause or contribute to an accident, such as whether or not a pilot is impaired, which is still under investigation,” said Pezalla. “It can’t be a single cause. There can be several factors here. “
Some toxicology experts who spoke to KRQE News 13 after the report was published say the concentrations of pot and cocaine were more than enough to cause impairment. However, Pezalla made it clear that just because there were drugs in Meleski’s system at the time does not necessarily mean that he was impaired while flying.
“Drugs stay in a person’s body for a considerable amount of time after they are no longer under the influence, so we may never know if that was a factor,” Pezalla said. “There could be other factors contributing to this, such as the visibility of power lines, so we’ll be looking at this from an aviation safety perspective as well, regardless of the pilot’s condition.”
Although the crash is still being investigated, the results are unlikely to change the approach of the lawyers involved in ongoing legal proceedings. The family of one of the victims, Martin “Marty” Martinez, filed a lawsuit against the Meleski driving company, which operated Meleski, but it is unclear whether any of the other families will be suing as well.
The full crash report has still not been released by the FAA or NTSB. This is not expected to be completed until next year.