Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Balloon payment

It's easy to say you don't want government regulations and inspections and Big Bro getting all up in your business when you're just trying to run your little business and bring home the bacon for Betty, Sis and Junior.

It's quite another when 15 people  - people who have people who will have to live without them forever  - get up in a hot-air balloon in Texas on a Saturday morning, and the pilot sails the balloon right onto some high-tension wires and you know the rest.

Ask yourself: would you, or anyone else you know and love, have gotten into that ill-fated flying machine, knowing you were going up with a man who had at least four drunken-driving convictions, two prison stays and more than 40 customer complaints on his record?

The man's name was Alfred “Skip” Nichols.  Employed by Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides, he was the pilot of the balloon that took him and all his passengers to their graves, crashing into a pasture near the central Texas town of Lockhart.  

This is the fertilizer plant that blew up in West, Texas, in
2013, killing 40 people, 10 of them emergency
 Police/Fire/EMS personnel.  The plant had last been inspected
in 1985.  28 years before.  28.
The Washington Post reports that before he showed up in Texas - a state known for lax attention to regulatory policies - Nichols had "extensive criminal and business troubles in the St. Louis, Missouri, area."  Highlights include: 

1990: pleads guilty to DWI in St. Louis County.

1997: Better Business Bureau in St. Louis receives its first complaint against Nichols’s business, Air Balloon Sports.

2000:  Convicted of a drug crime, spends about a year-and-a-half in prison.  Also, the BBB issued a "consumer alert" that year against another of his businesses, Manchester Balloon Voyages, after 11 complaints are received.

2001: Another BBB warning, after more than 36 complaints come in from customers who paid for voyages which Nichols failed to supply or remunerate customers. One of the customers cheated is a Catholic nun who paid $364 for a flight for herself and three friends to commemorate her 50 years of service.

2002: Nichols pleads guilty to two DWI charges.

2008:  A third warning from the BBB comes out, following eight more complaints from cheated customers. The BBB advises that Nichols was on probation in Missouri for distribution, delivery or manufacturing of a controlled substance.

2010: He's back in prison until 2012 after his parole was revoked because of a drunk-driving conviction.

2013: He is sued by, and settles with, a woman who was aboard his balloon when it crashed.  She suffered neck and back injuries. Nichols blames the accident on a "lack of wind" and states that his driver's license was revoked for 10 years in 2010.  

2014: Nichols sets up shop in Texas. 

We need inspections and regulations and people to make sure that the right hands are operating equipment that might kill or maim in the wrong hands, the same as you need your annual physical and your car needs maintenance.  People whose privilege to drive a car on the highway has been revoked have no business taking you up in a balloon.


Anonymous said...

Alfred G. Nichols was the distant cousin of hero, "Uncle" Alan Burton Hall! Hall is a hero gave his life saving a young girl!

Mark said...

Fascinating! A hero in the family is good for all!