Ten passengers on board balloon identified

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CALDWELL COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Ten of the victims who were in the hot air balloon that crashed in a field west of Lockhart Saturday morning have been identified by family members and family friends.Alfred “Skip” Nichols, Pilot

The pilot, Alfred “Skip” Nichols, died with 15 others when the balloon crashed next to power transmission lines off of State Highway 142. Officials have not confirmed whether or not the lines were a factor in the crash.

CNN confirmed the pilot’s identity after speaking with Alan Lirette, the ground crew supervisor who was working with Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.

Lirette said he helped load the other 15 passengers into the basket of the hot air balloon, called the “gondola.” Lirette called Nichols his “best friend, boss and roommate,” in an interview at his home in Kyle. “[Nichols] was a great pilot,” he said.

KXAN spoke with Matt Missentzis, now handling media relations for the Nichols family/Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.

“As you can imagine, they’re going through the grieving process along with the other victims of this tragic accident,” Missentzis said.

Sarah Nichols, Skip’s mother, handled business operations and decided Sunday night to cease operations. Missentzis is in the process of calling anyone who had a flight scheduled with the company to cancel the ride. Sarah will be flying in from Florida to assist investigators.

“You need to understand that Sarah Nichols is in the same situation as the families and friends of 15 other individuals, and as we pray through this tragic accident we just want to continue offering our condolences and heartfelt prayers to everyone involved. And we would ask that throughout the state of Texas and the country pray with us as we endure through this tragedy,” Missentzis told KXAN.Joe Owens and Tresa Shafer Owens

Husband and wife Joe and Tresa Owens were also on board the balloon when it crashed. The couple was from Katy, Texas. “They adored their children and grandchildren, and loved nothing more than spending time with them,” a GoFundMe page set up to help cover funeral expenses said.

The page says Tresa had a long career at TigerLane Preschool.Paige Brabson and Lorilee Brabson 

Paige and her mother, Lorilee, were on the balloon that crashed, family confirmed Sunday. Paige had her first child a few months ago and the trip was a Mother’s Day gift from Paige to her mom.

A family member asked people to pray for his family. The mother and daughter are from San Antonio.Sunday and Matt Rowan

A Snapchat photo of Matt and Sunday Rowan prior to the hot air balloon ride. (Snapchat Photo)

Sunday and Matt Rowan both grew up in College Station. The two, both 34, married in February. Matt was a professor and burn treatment researcher. Sunday had a 5-year-old son.

The two posted on social media pictures of them prior to getting into the hot air balloon.

Matt’s brother, Josh Rowan, told The Associated Press: “It’s a bit haunting now but I guess it was a bit of a play-by-play.”Brian and Tressie Neill

Brian and Tressie Neill (via GoFundMe site)
Brian and Tressie Neill (via GoFundMe site)

According to a GoFundMe site, Brian and Tressie Neill were from San Antonio and had been married for 23 years. The page says Brian surprised his wife with the hot air balloon trip. The page also states while in the air, Brian sent his brother a picture and stated, “can you see our reflection in the clouds?” They’re survived by their 16 and 20 year old daughters. KXAN spoke with Rey Lopez over the phone Monday, who is a former pastor at the church the Neill family attends in San Antonio. He said he got to know the family 5-7 years ago during a camping trip through church. Lopez said the family is very involved in church and very committed to one another, saying Brian and Tressie will leave a huge hole at Bandera Road City Church “that’s going to be hard to fill.”

“They were just very involved in the church. And you know, they were one of those families that – as a model, you want your own family to be,” Lopez said. “It’s a good reminder that, you know, our next day isn’t guaranteed, you know? And it’s really important for us to embrace the moment that we’re in.”

Having two children of his own, Lopez told KXAN he can’t imagine what Brian and Tressie’s daughters are going through.Scott Douglas

The Justice of the Peace in Lockhart says they have only officially identified one person from the crash and that person is Scott Douglas.

The Red Cross has opened a family assistance center to aid loved ones in the grieving process, providing group meals, NTSB updates, and professional mental health workers on site for support.

“This is a tragedy unlike no other and so the only people who can understand are the families who are grieving the same tragedy. So we’re there to support them and bring them together and there is so much value in that, in connecting with other individuals who are going through the same process as you are,” Red Cross volunteer Lisa Bovee told KXAN.

So far, about 60 family members are in town benefiting from Red Cross assistance.

“We’re seeing all ages, we have babies and toddlers and mothers and children and grandmothers who are all there, you know, reeling the loss of loved ones and it’s really a difficult process. I can’t put words to that, but we definitely sympathize with all of those families and our hearts go out to them,” Bovee said.

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