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UPDATE: Victims In Hot Air Balloon Crash Includes Couple With CS Ties

Sunday update:

LOCKHART, Texas (AP) — The Latest on the fatal hot air balloon crash in Central Texas (all times local):

5 p.m.

As Matt Rowan and his wife, Sunday Rowan, prepared to take a hot air balloon ride they texted family and posted on social media pictures of the balloon set up, the rising sun, them in the basket.

Matt Rowan’s brother, Josh Rowan, told The Associated Press on Sunday: “It’s a bit haunting now but I guess it was a bit of a play-by-play.”

He says that as word began to trickle out that a hot air balloon crashed Saturday morning their families hoped that it wasn’t theirs, but it soon became clear it was.

Josh Rowan said the two, both 34, grew up in College Station. They had been friends since high school and just got married in February.

He says, “They were really happy and they were in love and they were really starting a life together.”

He said that Sunday Rowan, who had a young son who wasn’t with them that morning, worked at a clothing store and Matt Rowan was a researcher and scientist at Brooke Army Medical Center. His research centered on treating burn victims.

Brent Jones, the father of Sunday Rowan’s 5-year-old son, tells Dallas television station KDFW that Matt Rowan was an amazing man and Sunday Rowan was “obsessed with her son’s happiness.”

Judy LeUnes, Matt Rowan’s 5th grade teacher and a family friend, told the Bryan-College Station Eagle: “He was fun to teach. He was excited every day.”

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4:25 p.m.

Federal officials say there is evidence that some part of the hot air balloon hit electrical wires before crashing, killing 16 on board.

Robert Sumwalt with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference that the sheriff said it was foggy after Saturday morning’s accident, but that it wasn’t clear what the weather was like during the flight itself.

It traveled about 8 miles from takeoff to crash. The basket was found about three-quarters of a mile from the balloon material itself.

The balloon fell in a pasture Saturday morning near Lockhart, about 30 miles south of Austin. The crash site was near a row of high-tension power lines, and aerial photos showed an area of scorched land underneath. One witness described seeing a “fireball” near the power lines.

Sumwalt said the power line was tripped was at 7:42 a.m., and the first call to 911 came a minute later.

It is the deadliest such accident in U.S. history.

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4:15 p.m.

Federal officials say the hot air balloon traveled about eight miles before it crashed in Central Texas, killing all 16 on board.

Robert Sumwalt with the National Transportation Safety Board said at a news conference that the balloon was operated by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.

Sumwalt said the passengers met the balloon operator in the San Marcos Wal-Mart parking lot at about 5:45 a.m. Saturday, and traveled to Fentress Texas Airpark. Ground crew members told the NTSB that they didn’t launch at the expected 6:45 a.m. time, but was delayed about 20 minutes.

Sumwalt said the ground crew communicated with the balloon by cellphone, and the pilot navigated with an iPad.

The first power line trip was at 7:42 a.m., and the first call to 911 was a minute later, but Sumwalt didn’t specify whether the balloon hit the power lines.

It traveled about 8 miles from takeoff to crash. The basket was found about three-quarters of a mile from the balloon material itself.

He also said a fire expert will help investigate the crash, which is the deadliest such accident in U.S. history.

___

2:20 p.m.

A Texas hot air balloon business owner who also does inspections says the balloon that crashed, killing 16, had “very good equipment, very new equipment.”

Philip Bryant runs Ballooning Adventures of Texas in Richmond, which also does manufacturer-mandated inspections and maintenance for other operators.

He said Skip Nichols brought his balloon into his inspection facility in May 2014 and was issued a one-year recertification. Bryant said the manufacturer of Nichols’ balloon mandates an annual inspection, and that the state of Texas does not inspect or regulate them.

Bryant said Nichols told him he moved from the St. Louis area to Central Texas because there was less competition.

Bryant said flying balloons in Texas can be problematic since hot temperatures create rising moisture in the air, meaning it’s only possible to fly for about two hours after sunrise. The crash happened about 7:40 a.m. Saturday.

He speculated that pilot error likely contributed because the equipment was in good shape.

___

1:25 p.m.

Records indicate that the apparent pilot of the hot air balloon that crashed in Central Texas and killed 16 was federally certified to fly balloons.

Nichols went by Skip, according to Alan Lirette, who identified Nichols as his boss, best friend and roommate. Lirette said he lived with Nichols in a home in Kyle, Texas, that county records show is owned by Alfred G. Nichols. Nichols moved south to Texas to be able to fly year-around, which the climate allows, Lirette said.

Authorities have not identified the pilot or passengers in Saturday’s crash near Lockhart, Texas.

According to an online Federal Aviation Administration database, Alfred G. Nichols of Chesterfield, Missouri, was medically certified to fly in July 1996 and was rated a commercial pilot of lighter-than-air balloons on July 14, 2010. The rating is limited to hot-air balloons with an airborne heater.

Missouri records list Nichols as the owner of Air Balloon Sports LLC, based out of the same Chesterfield address as the FAA record.

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1:05 p.m.

Officials in Texas say the final death toll from the hot air balloon crash in Central Texas is 16 people.

Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law and the Texas Department of Public Safety confirmed the number of victims in a statement Sunday. The balloon crashed Saturday morning.

The statement says that the National Transportation Safety Board and medical professionals have said identification of the victims will be “a long process.”

Authorities have not provided the reason why the balloon crashed or identifications of those on board. Alan Lirette told The Associated Press that his roommate and co-worker Skip Nichols piloted the balloon.

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12:40 p.m.

An ex-girlfriend of the hot air balloon pilot says that he was made for the job.

Wendy Bartch told the Austin American-Statesman (http://atxne.ws/2aqQPmw ) that she used to date Skip Nichols and had assisted him with a Missouri-based balloon business.

“He was a good pilot and loved people,” she said, adding that he’d been involved with hot air balloons for about two decades.

Bartch also said Nichols was cautious about keeping his passengers safe and that at least two vehicles would follow the balloon on the ground.

Federal investigators have not publicly identified the pilot or the company that operated the balloon, but roommate and co-worker Alan Lirette told The Associated Press that Nichols piloted the balloon that crashed Saturday, killing at least 16 people.

___

10:50 a.m.

A man who worked for the pilot of a hot air balloon says his boss was among the 16 people who died when it crashed.

Alan Lirette told The Associated Press that Skip Nichols was also his best friend and roommate a home in Kyle, Texas.

Federal investigators have not publicly identified the pilot or the company that operated the balloon.

Two officials familiar with the investigation who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly have said Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides operated it.

Lirette said he was part of the team that launched the balloon Saturday morning, so he didn’t see it crash. He did not say the location of the balloon launch.

He said there 15 people on board plus Nichols in a balloon that could have held up to 17 people total. He said several passengers seemed to be related.

Original stories:

LOCKHART, Texas (AP) _ A hot air balloon carrying at least 16 people caught on fire and crashed in Central Texas on Saturday, causing what authorities described as a “significant loss of life.”

Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board would not provide an exact number of how many people died. He said the federal agency has deemed it a major accident and a full-bore investigation will begin Sunday when more federal officials arrive.

The crash happened at about 7:40 a.m. in a pasture near Lockhart, and Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration said earlier that the balloon was carrying at least 16 people.

The balloon plunged into a pasture near Lockhart, Texas, about 30 miles south of Austin. The site of the crash appears to be right below a row of high-capacity power transmission lines about 4 to 5 stories tall.

Margaret Wylie lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site and told The Associated Press that she was letting her dog out Saturday morning when she heard a “pop, pop, pop,” then saw “a fireball going up.”

________________________________________________________________________________________

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Accident investigators warned the Federal Aviation Administration two years ago of the potential for large numbers of hot air balloon deaths and recommended greater safety oversight of commercial operators.

The FAA rejected those recommendations.

A hot air balloon with at least 16 people aboard crashed Saturday in Central Texas. Authorities say it’s unlikely anyone survived. It was not immediately known whether it was a tour balloon.

The National Transportation Safety Board wrote FAA Administrator Michael Huerta in April 2014 warning of “the potential for a high number of fatalities in a single air tour balloon accident.”

The board urged the FAA to require tour operators to get agency permission to operate, and that balloon operators be subject to FAA safety oversight.

Huerta said regulations were unnecessary because the risks were too low.

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Posted by on Jul 31 2016. Filed under News.

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