Pilot of balloon crash that killed 5 people used cocaine and marijuana, FAA says

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The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed into power lines in Albuquerque in June, killing him and the four passengers, had cocaine and marijuana in his body, according to a toxicology report released Wednesday.

Blood and urine samples taken from pilot Nicholas Meleski, 62, showed the drug to be present, the Federal Aviation Administration said in the report, which the agency released as part of a request of public documents.

Although alcohol was not detected in the samples, cocaethylene, a compound created when the liver metabolizes cocaine in the presence of ethanol, was also detected in his urine but not in his blood. The FAA made no comment beyond the report.

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The balloon piloted by Mr. Meleski struck power lines at 7:07 a.m. local time on June 26 about six miles west of Albuquerque Sunport International Airport, causing the pod to separate from the balloon envelope and a drop of about 100 feet, investigators said.

The cause of the crash has yet to be determined by the National Transportation Safety Board, which released a preliminary report on the crash in July.

In a statement to KOB4 television channel, members of the Meleski family said they were evaluating the results of the toxicology report and requested confidentiality.

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The passengers who were killed in the crash have been identified by authorities as Susan Montoya, 65; Marie Sisneros-Martinez, 59 years old; Martin Martinez, 62 years old; and John Montoya, 61.

A hot air balloon ride was on Ms. Montoya’s “to-do list” and staff at Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary School, where she worked as a vice-principal, purchased the flight for her and three guests, Scott Elder, the superintendent of Albuquerque public schools said at a press conference at the time.

Ms Montoya was transferred to another school next year, and it was a farewell gift for her, he said.

“Never before have we suffered so many casualties in one incident,” Elder said.

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Mr. Meleski was the father of a school district counselor, according to the superintendent.

In a statement to KOB4, Manny Sisneros, a brother of Ms Sisneros-Martinez, called for stricter monitoring of hot air balloon pilots.

“Nicholas Meleski obviously did not take into consideration all the people whose lives he destroyed because of his drug use,” Sisneros said. “We are aware that the drugs in his system may not have been the cause of the crash, but the presence of cocaine and marijuana in his system may have been one of the contributing factors.”

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