Texas hot air balloon crash: Pilot had drug and drink-driving convictions

Alfred Nichols was among 16 dead after basket portion of balloon caught fire

Texas hot air balloon crash: Pilot had drug and drink-driving convictions

Police cars block access to the site where a hot air balloon crashed early Saturday near Lockhart, Texas | Image: James Vertuno/AP/Press Association Images

The pilot of a hot air balloon which crashed in Texas served time in prison for drink-driving and drug offences, online records show.

Alfred "Skip" Nichols was among 16 people who died when the basket apparently caught fire before the craft came down in a field near Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin.

Former girlfriend Wendy Bartch, who said she first met Mr Nichols in St Louis in 1989, claimed he was a recovering alcoholic who had a history of drink-driving with multiple convictions.

She said the 49-year-old had been sober for at least four years and never piloted a balloon after drinking.

Ms Bartch said: "He did not fly when he wasn't supposed to. Having other people's lives at stake was Skip's primary concern."

Police said Mr Nichols was arrested in Missouri in 2000 on a drink-driving charge.

The case was resolved two years later when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour.

He is believed to have owned a hot air balloon touring company in St Louis County at the time and lived in Missouri before moving to Texas.

Complaints

Meanwhile, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) had reportedly warned consumers in 2008 about doing business with Mr Nichols after complaints about his balloon company.

It was apparently the third time since 2000 he received an unsatisfactory rating for not responding to complaints.

The St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper quoted the BBB as saying Mr Nichols was on probation in Missouri for the distribution, delivery or manufacturing of a controlled substance.

On Saturday, a balloon operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides and piloted by Mr Nichols hit high-tension power lines before crashing, killing all those on board, according to authorities.

Among the victims were Matt and Sunday Rowan, both 34, who married in February.

He was a professor and burns treatment researcher and she had a five-year-old son.

The couple posted pictures on social media before and during the morning balloon trip.

The company was involved in an accident with same balloon two years ago, Federal Aviation Administration records indicate.

On August 3rd, 2014, it made a hard landing in Kyle, Texas, when the pilot touched down suddenly to avoid hitting a crew vehicle parked in the balloon's path.

Two passengers were hurt and it was not clear if Mr Nichols was flying it at the time.