ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The feds have released their conclusions about what led to New Mexico’s deadliest hot air balloon crash on Albuquerque’s west side in 2021 on Friday. One of the families is now speaking on the findings in the report.
It’s been a tough two years for the Montoya family who lost their parents Susan and John Montoya in the crash. “A roller coaster, different, weird, empty,” said the couple’s daughter Stacy Francis. In June 2021, the balloon went down in the middle of an intersection. The balloon, operated by long-time pilot Nicholas Meleski, failed to clear power lines and crashed killing Meleski and four passengers on board including Susan and John who were just shy of their 21st wedding anniversary.
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A new report released by the National Transportation Safety Board this week said the basket separated from the envelope when it hit the power lines between 78-foot tall poles and fell onto the road. Following the crash, a toxicology report revealed Meleski tested positive for cocaine and cannabis in his system. The latest report said the “impairing, illicit drugs” in Meleski’s system likely contributed to the deadly crash.
It said a post-crash examination of the balloon revealed no evidence of a mechanical malfunction. Tough findings to hear for the victims’ families. “It was definitely upsetting and kind of just, confusing of how, how they could let that happen?” said David Montoya, the couple’s son.
Earlier this month, the Montoya family settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Meleski’s estate for $100,000. “It was never about money. so money is no closure, there needs to be changes,” said Francis. “I don’t ever want to see this happen to somebody else,” said Francis. Montoya added, “It was a tragedy that didn’t need to happen.”
A second wrongful death lawsuit against the balloon ride company is scheduled for trial next year as the victims’ families remember their loved ones. “The balloon ride was on their bucket list but it shouldn’t have been the last thing they checked off,” said Montoya.
The Meleski Family released a statement Friday:
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.Meleski Family