The deadliest hot air balloon crash in U.S. history has sparked a safety debate

Credit: Facebook

A newlywed couple is among the 16 victims of a deadly a hot air balloon crash near Lockhart, Texas.

Sunday and Matt Rowan were married six months ago, Brent Jones, the father of Sunday’s 5-year-old son, told CNN.

The hot air balloon ride, which turned deadly after the balloon crashed into power lines on Saturday, was a birthday gift from Sunday to her husband, Jones said.

“Sunday was messaging her mom before getting on the balloon. Soon after takeoff, she stopped all communication,” he said. “It’s hard, but I want everyone to understand how great our lives were together and how amazing these two people are.”

Matt Rowan’s brother told NBC News that the victim had recently begun a new job as an army hospital burns trial unit chief.

“He was doing some amazing work and research. He felt like a lot of the stuff he was doing would have benefits for soldier and other service members who had been injured by burns,” Joshua Rowan said.

A volleyball teammate of Matt Rowan’s had received a text from him on Friday saying he would be late for a tournament because of the air balloon ride, which he said had “been rescheduled a dozen times.” The last text Matt sent to his teammates was a picture from the ride above the ground.

CNN reports the pilot of the hot air balloon was identified as Alfred “Skip” Nicholas, according to Alan Lirette, the ground crew supervisor for Heart of Texas Hot Air Balloon Rides.

Witness Margaret Wylie told the Associated Press that she was taking her dog out Saturday morning when she heard a “pop, pop, pop.”

RELATED VIDEO: Fatalities Reported In Texas Hot Air Balloon Crash

“I looked around and it was like a fireball going up,” she said.

Safety concerns are now being raised following the deadliest hot air balloon accident in United States history.

The former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, urged the FAA in 2014 to address “operational deficiencies” in hot air balloon activities after several incidents, including one in Egypt that killed 21 people onboard, resulted in injuries and one death, according to a letter published on the NTSB’s website.

Hersman recommended commercial balloon operators be required to acquire and maintain letters of authorization to hold air tour flights and to give passengers “a similar level of safety oversight as passengers of air tour airplane and helicopter operations.”

Lynn Lunsford, a spokeswoman for the FAA, told NBC News that it was “too early to say” whether the FAA would reconsider the NTSB recommendations “until we’ve had a chance to gather and examine the evidence in this particular case.”

According to NBC News, the NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said Sunday that investigators would be looking at three things to determine the cause of the fatal incident: “the human, the machine and the environment.”