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Tue, Aug 22, 2023

NTSB Final Report: Cameron Balloons US O-120

Postmortem Toxicology Testing Of Specimens From The Pilot Was Consistent With The Recent Use Of Cannabis (THC) And Cocaine

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico Accident Number: WPR21FA242
Date & Time: June 26, 2021, 07:07 Local Registration: N158NM
Aircraft: Cameron Balloons US O-120 Aircraft Damage: Destroyed
Defining Event: Collision during takeoff/land Injuries: 5 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Other work use

Analysis: The pilot was conducting a sightseeing flight, with four passengers on board the balloon. Near the conclusion of the flight, the pilot maneuvered the balloon to land in an open field across a major intersection. Power lines were orientated nearly perpendicular to the balloon’s flight path to the field. The power lines were hung between metal poles that were about 78 ft high.

A review of surveillance video from a local business revealed that the balloon began a climb before the intersection, with the power lines across the road. Video then depicted the balloon descending into the power lines as it crossed about perpendicular to the wires. Shortly thereafter, the balloon contacted a high-tension power line, an arc appeared, and the basket separated from the envelope and subsequently impacted the road. A postaccident examination of the balloon revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

Postmortem toxicology testing of specimens from the pilot was consistent with the recent use of cannabis (THC) and cocaine. The pilot’s cavity blood THC concentration was detected at 5.5 ng/mL, suggesting that usage was within the last few hours. Some impairing effects of THC would likely have been present that would have affected the pilot’s ability to successfully operate the balloon. Cocaine was detected in blood and urine at levels that suggested recent use. At the time of the accident, the impairing effects of the pilot’s use of THC and cocaine likely contributed to the accident.

History of Flight -- Approach Collision during takeoff/land (Defining event): On June 26, 2021, about 0707 mountain daylight time, a Cameron Balloons US, O-120 Balloon, N158NM, was destroyed when it was involved in an accident in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The pilot and 4 passengers were fatally injured. The balloon was operated as Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 sightseeing passenger flight.

After about 1 hour of an uneventful flight, the pilot maneuvered the balloon for landing. The landing site was located in an open field near a major road intersection. Power lines were orientated east/west nearly perpendicular to the balloon’s flightpath to the field. The power lines were hung between metal poles that were about 78 ft high. The power lines were configured with two noncharged ground lines on each side at the top along with several charged lines below each side.

A review of surveillance video from a local business revealed that the balloon began a climb before the road intersection where the power lines were located across from the road. Video then depicted the balloon descending into the power lines as it crossed about perpendicular to the wires. Shortly thereafter, the balloon contacted a high-tension power line, an arc appeared, and the basket separated from the envelope. The balloon’s envelope was later located about 0.6 miles south from the accident site in a private residence.

Probable Cause and Findings: The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be -- The failure of the pilot to maintain adequate clearance from power lines while maneuvering for landing. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s use of impairing, illicit drugs.

FMI: www.ntsb.gov

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