The Latest: Friend of balloon pilot says 16 total on board

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

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.


9 a.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board says they’re particularly interested in any cellphone video of the balloon’s flight.

NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said Sunday at a news conference in Washington that balloons don’t have black boxes, but that cellphone video has been helpful in the past.

Investigators will be combing the wreckage looking for devices that have recoverable video shot by passengers. They’ll also be reviewing any video shot by witnesses.

The crash happened Saturday morning in a pasture near Lockhart, which is about 30 miles south of Austin. At least 16 people died, making it apparently the worst such crash in U.S. history and among the deadliest in the world.


8:30 a.m.

The federal safety agency confirms at least 16 people died in the hot air balloon crash in Central Texas.

Robert Sumwalt with the National Transportation Safety Board cautioned Sunday that investigators are still determining how many people were aboard the balloon when it crashed Saturday morning, but that he could confirm at least 16 had died.

That makes it one of the worst hot air balloon crashes in U.S. history.

During the brief news conference in Washington, D.C., Sumwalt said NTSB investigators were just beginning the process of determining what caused the balloon to crash.

He offered few details but said they would be looking into whether the operator of the balloon filed a passenger manifest before taking off, because balloons do not usually file flight plans.

The crash happened Saturday morning in a pasture near Lockhart, which is about 30 miles south of Austin.


12:10 a.m.

A hot air balloon carrying 16 people caught on fire and crashed in Central Texas, and authorities say it appears no one survived.

Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board says a full-bore investigation was to begin Sunday after more federal officials arrive.

Authorities would not confirm the exact number of deaths in Saturday’s crash, but Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration said the balloon was carrying at least 16 people. The Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that it didn’t look like anyone survived.

If 16 people were killed, it would be the one of the worst such disasters, possibly the worst in U.S. history.

Saturday’s crash happened in a pasture near Lockhart, which is about 30 miles south of Austin.

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