Authorities have confirmed that 15 passengers and the pilot died Saturday in what is believed to be the deadliest hot air balloon crash in American history. The victims of the crash near Lockhart in central Texas include newlyweds Matt and Sunday Rowan, who were married just six months ago, People reports. Sunday, mother of a 5-year-old son, bought the balloon ride as a birthday present for her husband. "Sunday was messaging her mom before getting on the balloon," her former partner says. "Soon after takeoff, she stopped all communication." Investigators believe the balloon hit power lines. In other coverage:
- Matt Rowan's brother tells NBC that the 34-year-old professor had just started working as chief of clinical trials at an Army hospital burn unit. "He was doing some amazing work and research," Joshua Rowan says. "He felt like a lot of the stuff he was doing would have benefits for soldiers and other service members who had been injured by burns."
- The Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides pilot has been identified as Alfred "Skip" Nichols, 49. "I knew him to be a safe, competent pilot," a fellow balloon pilot tells CNN. "He has done this for a very long time."
- The other victims were all in small groups rather than large parties, reports the Austin American-Statesman, which profiles several more of the deceased passengers.
- KVUE reports that Nichols was the owner of the balloon company as well as the pilot. Neighbors describe him as a "real happy guy" whose balloon was a familiar sight.
- NBC News reports that investigators are looking into several possible causes of the crash, including cloudy weather that delayed the takeoff by around 20 minutes. An NTSB spokesman says investigators have gathered 14 recording devices used by passengers and will be searching them for clues.
- The American-Statesman reports that investigators say the basket was found around three-quarters of a mile away from the balloon, suggesting it was severed when the balloon hit power lines.
- The AP reports that Nichols had a checkered history in Missouri before he moved to Texas five years ago: Police say he was arrested in 2000 on a felony driving while intoxicated charge. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DWI. He used to own a hot air balloon touring company in St. Louis County, which was the subject of a warning from the Better Business Bureau after repeated customer complaints.
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