Texas balloon pilot had been arrested for DWI in 2000

Published 9:59 am Monday, August 1, 2016

LOCKHART, Texas — The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in Texas and killed all 16 people aboard was arrested in Missouri in 2000 for driving while intoxicated, and the Better Business Bureau warned consumers about doing business with a balloon touring company he used to operate in that state.

Authorities haven’t publicly named anyone killed in the crash, saying it could take a while to identify the bodies. But Alfred “Skip” Nichols, 49, was identified as the pilot by his friend and roommate Alan Lirette, who said that Nichols was a good pilot.

“That’s the only thing I want to talk about, is that he’s a great pilot,” Lirette said, speaking to The Associated Press from a house he shared with Nichols in Kyle, Texas. “There’s going to be all kinds of reports out in the press and I want a positive image there too.”

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Authorities say the balloon, which was operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, hit high-tension power lines before crashing into a pasture Saturday morning near Lockhart, which is about 60 miles northeast of San Antonio. Margaret Wylie, who lives a quarter-mile from the site, said she heard popping sounds and saw what looked “like a fireball going up.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are trying to determine what caused the crash, said board member Robert Sumwalt. He said the pilot was licensed to fly the balloon, but that it was too soon to say whether he had a criminal history.