Pilot in Deadly Albuquerque Balloon Crash had Drugs in System, F.A.A. 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 made public on Wednesday.

Blood and urine samples taken from the 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 public records request.

Although alcohol was not detected in the samples, cocaethylene, a compound created when the liver metabolizes cocaine in the presence of ethanol, was also detected in his urine but not his blood. The F.A.A. did not comment beyond the report.

The balloon piloted by Mr. Meleski struck 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 separate from the balloon’s envelope and fall about 100 feet, investigators said.

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

In a statement issued to the television station KOB4, Meleski family members said that they were evaluating the results of the toxicology report and asked for privacy.

The passengers who were killed in the crash were identified by the authorities as Susan Montoya, 65; Mary 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 for the Albuquerque Public Schools, said at a news conference at the time.

Ms. Montoya was transferring to another school next year, and this was a farewell gift to her, he said.

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

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

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

“Nicholas Meleski obviously didn’t take into consideration all of the people whose lives he destroyed due to his drug use,” Mr. Sisneros said. “We are aware that the drugs in his system may not be the cause of the crash, but having cocaine and marijuana in his system may have been one of the contributing factors.”

The Tycoon Herald