Investigation finds pilot’s drug use contributed to hot air balloon crash that killed 5

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A hot air balloon pilot’s use of cannabis and cocaine contributed to New Mexico’s deadliest balloon crash, according to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB found that longtime pilot, Nicholas Meleski, failed to maintain adequate clearance from power lines while maneuvering for a landing in June 2021.

“Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s use of impairing, illicit drugs,” the report stated.

The crash killed Meleski as well as four passengers – Susan and John Montoya, and Martin and Mary Martinez.

According to the report, Meleski had used cannabis “within the last few hours” and had also used cocaine recently.

“Some impairing effects of THC would likely have been present, that would have affected the pilot’s ability to successfully operate the balloon,” the report continued.

The crash happened near Central and Unser. Albuquerque Fire Rescue said the balloon hit a power line and that severed the gondola from the envelope. The balloon envelope was found at a separate location south of the crash.

The NTSB concluded that there was no evidence of any mechanical malfunctions.

The following statement was released on behalf of Meleski’s family:

We thank the National Transportation Safety Board for the effort and time spent on the investigation of the tragic accident. We cannot express the depth of our grief and sadness for the pain this accident has caused — our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the passengers.

We want to also thank the entire hot air ballooning community of New Mexico and across the world. The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming and we continue to grieve with you. Nick loved this community so dearly, and our family will continue to support the sport any way we can.

Whether you crew for a pilot or are a veteran in the skies…

“May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that God joins you in laughter
And sets you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.”