Pilot in fatal New Mexico balloon crash had drugs in system, toxicology report finds

U.S. & World

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A toxicology report reveals the pilot involved in New Mexico’s deadliest hot air balloon crash had drugs in his system.

The hot air balloon went down in late June after hitting a power line, killing four passengers and the pilot, Nicholas Meleski. 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 on June 26, the day of the crash.

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,'” said David Tanzer, a longtime balloon pilot who requested Meleski’s toxicology report.

“Essentially, this means this was just an entirely unnecessary tragedy,” Tanzer said of the findings.

The report, released recently, 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 New Mexico’s Balloon Fiesta. He has also worked to promote safety in the ballooning industry, prompting him to request the Meleski’s toxicology report, also obtained by KRQE.

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

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

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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