A year later, a family remembers their loved ones killed in a hot air balloon accident

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — It’s been a year since a hot air balloon crashed into a median, killing five New Mexicans, and their families say they still feel the loss of their loved ones.

“They only did good things. So to lose them both was truly a very sad day for us on Earth,” said Shannon Ray-Mitchell, daughter of Susan Montoya.

Montoya and her husband, John Montoya, were two of five aboard the balloon which hit the power lines separating the gondola from the envelope – which could be seen floating hauntingly on its own.

“Georgia O’Keeffe staff donated funds to purchase a hot air balloon ride for Susan and three guests as a parting gift. It was their way of showing Susan how much they loved and appreciated her. There are no words to describe the grief and trauma the staff at Georgia O’Keeffe are facing,” said APS Superintendent Scott Elder.

Ray-Mitchell says Susan and John were so adventurous they were planning a trip to Ireland this year for their anniversary. This milestone among others is forever changed in their absence, including Susan’s birthday earlier this month.

“It was just a reminder that she’s not here. Yes, so it was hard. It was hard on our children. You know, they were great-grandparents. They’ve come every year super, super active in our kid’s life, you know?” Ray-Mitchell said.

Martin and Mary Martinez and pilot Nick Meleski were also killed in the accident.

Toxicology reports later came back showing Meleski had traces of marijuana and cocaine in his system at the time. It remains unclear when he ingested these drugs in relation to the fatal flight.

Due to the findings of the Federal Aviation Administration – a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Martin Martinez’s family against Meleski and the company he flew for Hot Air Balloonatics.

Currently, the FAA still does not require a medical certificate to fly hot air balloons.

And if the memorial is gone, the loss has not gone.

“It just feels like they were ripped away from us. You know, just when my mom and John should have been able to start living their lives,” Ray-Mitchell said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the crash is still under investigation, but they expect a factual report to be released later this year. They added that these types of investigations generally last 12 to 24 months.