Pilot Identified In Hot Air Balloon Crash That Killed 16

Skip Nichols, who owned Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, was among the victims of the crash on Saturday morning.

The pilot of a hot air balloon that caught fire and crashed in Lockhart Texas, Saturday morning — killing16 people — was identified.

The balloon, which landed in a pasture about 30 miles south of Austin, was operated by a company called Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides. Its owner, Skip Nichols, was among the 16 victims.

"Following the tragic loss of our beloved owner and chief pilot Skip and the passengers aboard the flight Saturday, July 30, all flights have been cancelled for the foreseeable future," said an employee in a statement on the company's answering machine.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who passed away with Skip."

In a press conference on Sunday, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Member Robert Sumwalt said that Nichols had the proper certification to fly balloons, and that the NTSB would interview the ground crew on Monday.

Alan Lirette told the Associated Press that Nichols — his boss and roommate — helped launch the balloon Saturday morning, and that none of the passengers were children.

He emphasized that Nichols was a "great pilot."

BuzzFeed News has reached out to Lirette for more information.

Skip Nichols often posted photos to the Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides Facebook page. The most recent was on July 21.

The incident occurred around 7:40 a.m. local time, the Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson Lynn Lunsford told BuzzFeed News Saturday.

The balloon caught fire and crashed in a pasture where large high-capacity transmission lines cut through the area.

Sumwalt said that the pilot (whom he did not name, per NTSB guidelines) met with a group of 15 passengers at 5:45 a.m. Saturday for a hot air balloon ride that was supposed to depart at sunrise.

Sumwalt noted that the launch was late by as many as 20 minutes, and that investigators were still figuring out whether or not the delay was related to the crash.

"The first power line trip was reported by the utility company at 7:42 a.m., and first call to 911 came one minute later," Sumwalt said.

Officials spotted flames on a road that appeared to be the balloon's basket.

The NTSB investigation will focus on the human, machine, and environmental factors behind the incident, a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended his condolences to the family of the victims, posting on Twitter: "May God's restorative strength & grace be with the families affected by the tragic hot air balloon crash."

The deadliest hot air balloon crash took place in Luxor, Egypt, on Feb. 26, 2013. That balloon also caught fire, killing 19 of 21 tourists.

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