Pilot in Fatal Texas Hot-air Balloon Crash Had Taken Enough Benadryl to Act Drunk

AUSTIN — The pilot in the deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history was likely impaired by opioids and sedatives when he ignored weather warnings and flew the ride into a power line, investigators said Tuesday.Besides Valium and oxycodone, there was a high enough dosage of the over-the-counter antihistamine Benadryl in Alfred "Skip" Nichols' system to mimic "the impairing effect of a blood-alcohol level" of a drunken driver, said Dr. Nicholas Webster, a National Transportation Safety Board medical officer.During a meeting in Washington, NTSB revealed its findings about the July 2016 crash near Austin that killed 16 people. Investigators scolded the Federal Aviation Agency for lax enforcement of the ballooning industry and recommended that balloon pilot submits to the same medical checks as airplane pilots.Nichols, 49, had at least four prior convictions for drunken driving, though no alcohol was found in his system after the crash. Investigators said Nichols was told during a weather briefing before the flight that clouds may be a problem. He brushed off the warning."We just fly in between them," Nichols answered back, according to NTSB investigators. "We find a hole and we go."Visibility was 10 miles about two hours before the balloon took off from a Wal-Mart parking lot near the rural town of Lockhart but had diminished to just 2 miles before the ride began.Investigators said Nichols told his psychiatrist three months before the crash that he was not using his antidepressant medication and that his psychiatrist documented his mood as "not good." Nichols was prescribed 13 medications and was also being treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, which investigators say also was a contributing factor.  Continue reading...

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