FAA Report Suggests Recent Drug Use In Balloon Pilot Toxicology Tests


According to an FAA toxicology report, Nicholas Meleski, the commercial pilot in the June 26 hot air balloon crash that killed all five on board in Albuquerque, New Mexico, had THC (marijuana) and cocaine in his blood and urine samples.

Joe Riley, president of Melbourne, Florida-based National Drug Screening, reviewed the report and told AVweb the results suggest the drug use was likely significant, but could also have occurred the night before the flight. He said, “The difference in levels from the blood [lower levels] and urine [higher levels] suggest that the drug use was not immediately before flight, though it doesn’t prove that.” Evidence of drug use dissipates more quickly from the blood, but can remain visible in urine testing for far longer.

Riley added that, in general, levels of substances in the system are an inexact way of determining impairment at a given time (unlike a breathalyzer test for alcohol, for example), but Meleski’s results suggest recent use.

Riley’s interpretation is consistent with that of toxicologist Dr. Ernest Chiodo, who told a local Albuquerque news outlet the results were “more consistent with partying the night before.” The report also showed cocaethylene in the urine sample, but not the blood sample. Cocaethylene is a substance formed by the liver when cocaine and alcohol coexist in the blood.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. It’s long overdue that the US shucks off the wrong-headed governance of those substances. It was dumb at the time and the whole war on drugs thing has done more harm than good. But there is an almost equally bad outcome that is coming at us in the rush to right old wrongs: somehow ignoring the fact that those drugs can affect your performance for days, weeks or months. Especially weed and most especially when faced with something unexpected. But those dumb laws also stifled basic research for literally generations. Until we know for certain what the effects are and how to correctly test for their presence, random alcohol and drug testing of pilots should be ramped up massively. Anywhere, anytime.