Hot air balloon pilot had history of close calls before deadly crash

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

LOCKHART, Texas - Both the hot air balloon and the pilot involved in this weekend's fatal accident in central Texas had a series of close calls dating back to 2014, Channel 2 Investigates has learned.

One of those incidents happened at a Katy distribution center parking lot near Highway 99 and the Katy Freeway in November 2015.

"A big crash and I thought somebody had hit my car. And I see a big basket full of people and they are in panic mode and it's rocking back and forth and back and forth," witness Adrian Pollard said.

Pollard's SUV was totaled when the basket of the balloon, loaded with passengers, smashed into his Suburban.

"To be honest with you, he didn't want to report it to his insurance," Pollard said. "The damage was more than the Suburban was worth, so what he did was he bought the Suburban from me."

The FAA does not appear to have any record of that incident, but Channel 2 Investigates obtained video of it.

Such accidents require pilots to report them to the federal government.

Another incident was logged by the FAA, one that happened in August 2014.

An ambulance transported two women to the hospital after a rough landing in a balloon piloted by Skip Nichols.

Nichols had a criminal record, which would have precluded him from being a fixed-winged or airplane pilot, but the rules appear to be looser for hot-air balloon pilots.

Nichols served time in prison, including a 10-year sentence handed down in 2002 for possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and a seven-year sentence for DWI-aggravated. The prison sentences ran concurrently in Missouri.

Although it was not immediately apparent how much time Nichols spent behind bars, a friend said he moved to Texas to start over.

Copyright 2016 by KPRC Click2Houston. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.