Five people were killed in a hot air balloon crash in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Saturday, June 26, 2021. They have been identified as Susan and John Montoya, Mary and Martin Martinez and Nicholas Meleski. According to New Mexico State Police, Meleski was the balloon’s pilot and the two couples were passengers.
“The initial investigation indicates the balloon descended towards the ground and struck an overhead power line. The basket became engulfed in flames. The Albuquerque Police and Fire Department arrived on scene, extinguished the fire, and rendered aid,” state police said in a press release. “The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigators were notified to investigate the crash. Inquiries into the cause of the crash should be made directly to the FAA. The New Mexico State Police Investigations Bureau, Crime Scene Unit, Crash Reconstruction Unit and Aerial Drone Team assisted in the investigation.”
According to the state police, the crash happened about 7:30 a.m. near Unser Boulevard and Central Avenue in Albuquerque. John Montoya was taken to a local hospital after the crash, but was later pronounced dead there, police said. The other four victims were pronounced dead at the scene by the New Mexico Office of Medical Investigator.
These are the five victims killed in the Albuquerque hot air balloon crash:
Susan Montoya, 65, & John Montoya, 61
Susan Montoya and John Montoya were two of the passengers in the balloon when it crashed. Susan Montoya was an assistant principal for the Albuquerque Public Schools, according to her Facebook profile. Her husband, John Montoya, was a special education teaching assistant in the school district, his Facebook page shows. She graduated from Colorado Christian University and Eastern New Mexico University and he graduated from the University of New Mexico.
The couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in July 2020, according to a Facebook on Susan Montoya’s page. Jim Marable wrote on Facebook, “HEARTBROKEN. That balloon crash yesterday claimed the lives of 5 people. Two of those were John & Susan Montoya. True servants and sweetest people. They leave behind several grown kids and many grandkids. And grieving churches in Albuquerque and Gallup.”
Libby Thomas added, “I am devastated to hear of Susan and John’s death. They were two of the sweetest, kindest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Their devotion to God was strong so I know they are resting in the arms of our sweet Jesus. I am so very, very sorry they are gone from this earth and our lives.”
Mary Martinez, 59, & Martin Martinez, 62
Husband and wife Mary Martinez and Martin Martinez were the other two passengers in the balloon when it crashed. Mary Martinez was a Zumba instructor who volunteered at the North Valley Senior Center, according to her Facebook profile. She also offered free Zumba classes at churches and community centers around the Albuquerque area, her Facebook page shows. Martin Martinez was a retired Albuquerque Police Department officer who was working as a sergeant with the Albuquerque Public Schools Police.
The school district said in a statement, “It is with a heavy heart that we share news of the sudden and tragic loss of Sgt. Martin Martinez and his wife Mary, who died early Saturday in a hot air ballooning accident. Sgt. Martinez will forever be remembered for his lifelong dedication, courage, and selflessness to the profession of law enforcement. He had long careers with both the Albuquerque Police Department and the Albuquerque Public Schools Police Department. We extend our deepest condolences to the Martinez family as well as members of the APS Police Department who loved, admired, and respected Sgt. Martinez. APS will provide counseling services to any employee struggling with this unexpected death.”
Nick Meleski, 62
Nick Meleski, 62, was the pilot of the hot air balloon. Meleski flew a balloon known as the Izia Balloon, which was featured in a photo from the 2015 Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. Meleski is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren. Several tributes to the hot air balloon pilot were posted on Facebook after his death.
The Angel Fire Visitor Center wrote, “Our hearts are broken for the hot-air balloon community who fly Angel Fire, at the loss of pilot Nick Meleski, in a tragic accident this morning. We will miss him. We send our sincere condolences and prayers to his wife Mona and family.”
Kalyn Chieruzzi wrote on Facebook, “The ballooning family lost an incredible friend today. Nick Meleski, you were the life of the party. Wherever you were, you knew how to light up the room. You put many smiles on people’s faces. If someone was having a bad day, you lifted their spirits. I loved being around you. Everyone loved you. It’s an honor to call you my friend! We all will miss you so much. We love you. We love you too Mona! Keeping you both in our hearts and prayers. Lost for words, except for…life is too short. Don’t take it for granted – love one another, especially your loved ones. Fly high my friend!
Bradley Rice said on Facebook, “It has been a very difficult day which I am trying to wrap my head around. All I can focus on are the memories of my friend and fellow pilot who lived a full and adventurous life. Nick Meleski was always the life of the party and there was never a dull moment when you were with him. His energy and zest for life was infectious. I will truly miss you my friend! Mona, we love you and will always be here for you.”
Valerie Martinez added, “So sad to get the news of Nick Meleski today. He gave me my first balloon ride. I enjoyed many fiestas with Mona & Nick and wonderful times and memories. Fly high Nick, RIP. My condolences to the families who lost loved ones today.”