Officials: Hot-Air Balloon Pilot Was on Cocaine, Pot During New Mexico Crash that Killed Five

Nick Meleski Hot Air Balloon, AP Photo/Andres Leighton

A hot-air balloon pilot was on two kinds of drugs during a fatal 2021 crash in Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to officials.

Five people died when they fell 100 feet from the sky during the ride, the New York Post reported Monday.

“Nicholas Meleski’s ‘recent use’ of coke and marijuana likely had ‘impairing effects’ that contributed to the June 26, 2021, crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded in its final report into the deadliest balloon accident in New Mexico’s history,” the outlet said.

Officials say he did not keep enough clearance from power lines and ran into them as he tried to land the hot-air balloon. The investigation also did not find any evidence pointing to mechanical problems or failures during the excursion.

“I just look up, and I seen the balloon,” one witness told KOAT not long after the crash, adding everyone was screaming about it:

“It was by itself, and I was like, ‘Where’s the basket?’ I immediately reacted and started running this way,” he said. “The basket was on fire. There was a lot of smoke coming out of it. It was already on fire.”

The victims included Meleski; 65-year-old Susan Montoya; her husband, 61-year-old John Montoya; 59-year-old Martin Martinez; and his wife, identified as Mary, who was 62.

“Martin Martinez worked as a police officer, first for the city of Albuquerque and later for its public school system, before retiring,” the Post report said, adding, “Susan Montoya was an assistant school principal and her husband worked with special-education students.”

According to Meleski’s obituary, he was a husband, father, and grandfather.

He reportedly had levels of cannabis and cocaine that showed recent drug use prior to the deadly incident, KRQE reported Friday:

In a recent statement, the Meleski family said, “We cannot express the depth of our grief and sadness for the pain this accident has caused. Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the passengers.”


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