Toxicology report finds pilot in fatal balloon crash had drugs in system

Albuquerque News

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A toxicology report reveals the pilot involved in the state’s deadliest hot air balloon crash had drugs in his system. The memorial is still at Central and Unser where the hot air balloon hit a power line and went down in late June, killing four passengers and the pilot, Nicholas Meleski.


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A longtime balloon pilot who requested Meleski’s toxicology report says this tragedy didn’t have to happen. “Essentially, this means this was just an entirely unnecessary tragedy,” David Tanzer explained.

It was a devastating crash that shook Albuquerque and the tight-knit hot air ballooning community. “I freaked out. First of all, I thought, ‘Am I seeing this? Is this really happening?'” a witness told KRQE News 13 the day of the crash on June 26.

“The balloon apparently hit the line, skirted to the west on the top of the power lines and the gondola crashed into the intersection here at Unser and Central,” Albuquerque Police Department Spokesperson Gilbert Gallegos stated.

The crash left people with more questions than answers. “There was nothing I heard from anybody, you know, an observation of, ‘OK, this weather issue came about.’ Or, ‘This mechanical issue came about,'” Tanzer said.

The toxicology report just released reveals Meleski had THC and cocaine in his system at the time his balloon hit a power line, killing him and his four passengers, two couples well-known in the Albuquerque Public Schools community.

“I was saddened,” Tanzer went on. “I was angered.” Tanzer has been flying for more than 40 years, including at Balloon Fiesta. The ballooning safety advocate has spoken at seminars, written many safety columns on the topic, and said there were conversations within the small ballooning community after this tragedy. That prompted him to request the toxicology report, also obtained by KRQE News 13.

“I was also aware of rumors to the effect of he was under the influence of drugs,” Tanzer said.

Tanzer says while awareness is key to help ensure a similar tragedy doesn’t happen again, more needs to be done. “Making a concerted effort to implement something appropriate to stop this,” he said.

The Meleski family responded with the following statement in response to the release of the toxicology report:

“Like you, we have just received the report and we are reviewing the information contained in the report to gain an understanding of the findings. We are awaiting the full results of the ongoing investigation into the accident. We have no further comment at this time.”

The NTSB hasn’t yet confirmed the cause of the crash.

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