Balloon community calls for pilot drug tests after toxicology report in deadly crash

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – After a toxicology report showed the pilot involved in New Mexico’s deadliest hot air balloon crash had drugs in his system, fellow balloonists are calling for drug testing for pilots. According to the report, Nicholas Meleski had THC and cocaine in his system at the time of the crash that killed himself and four others. In a city known for its beloved hot air balloons, June’s deadly crash rocked many and is still fresh in their minds.


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“I knew Nick because we took off from the same field,” said Glenn Thomas. “We had the same flight path that day.”

Thomas is a local commercial balloon pilot. While it’s hard to forget the events surrounding the crash, he says everything was brought back to the forefront this week as the toxicology report came back for 62-year-old pilot Nick Meleski, who had cocaine and pot in his system at the time. Meleski flew the iZia balloon for years, including at Balloon Fiesta.

Thomas says it’s a reminder that things need to change when it comes to balloon flight standards. “We don’t do drug testing. I think we should,” said Thomas. “As a matter of fact, I went on the forums today and suggested that all commercial pilots do a hair follicle test.”

All five people on board the balloon were killed, including Meleski and two families involved in APS. Some local pilots say they should be held to a higher standard and hope the ballooning community can learn from this.

“When you’re driving a car, you can always pull over, but when you’re in the air, you can’t pull over,” said Thomas, adding, “It’s a privilege to fly a hot air balloon and fly people in a hot air balloon.”

KRQE News 13 spoke with toxicology experts who say the levels of THC and cocaine found in Meleski’s blood were more than enough to cause impairment. Thomas says while it should be a no-brainer for pilots to do drug tests, some are already pushing back at the thought.

“I know there’s a lot of people that don’t think it should be done because it’s probably costly, but what’s the cost of one life, much less five,” said Thomas. “The hair follicle will go back in time. Most people may not feel comfortable about it, but maybe those are the ones who shouldn’t be flying,” he later added.

Meleski’s family says they’re reviewing the toxicology report and ask for privacy at this time. News 13 also reached out to Balloon Fiesta representatives to see if future Fiestas could see drug test requirements for pilots in light of this report but they chose not to discuss any future decisions.

News 13 also looked at FAA records for past fatal aviation crashes with positive results for drugs. The levels on Meleski’s toxicology report were similar, and in some cases, above. According to NTSB, which is leading the investigation into the crash, the final report will likely take 12 to 24 months to complete.

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