The New Zealand hot-air balloon crashed that killed 11 people on board in 2012 was piloted by a person who had cannabis in his system. The official report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission showed that it was “highly likely” that pilot Lance Hopping smoked the drug before the flight.
On Jan 7, 2012, a Cameron Balloons Limited A210 hot-air balloon carrying 10 passengers and the pilot crashed near the town of Carterton, Wairarapa after it was ensnared in power lines and burst into flames.
Two f the passengers jumped 20 metres from the basket to the ground while it was still caught on the wires. They died from their injuries. The remaining eight passengers and pilot Hopping also died from injuries after the balloon caught fire and fell to the ground.
In the official report released by the Commission on Thursday, it has been concluded that Mr Hopping exhibited poor judgement during the accident.
When the balloon flew towards the power lines, he should have rapidly descended the balloon instead of making it climbed. If he had followed the manufacturer’s advice and descend the balloon, the passengers would have had a better chance of survival.
Also, Mr Hopping’s post-mortem tests revealed that he had an active ingredient of cannabis in his blood, indicating that he was a long-term and recent user of cannabis.
Two witnesses also claimed that they saw the pilot smoking an unknown substance earlier before the flight. As his forensic test returned negative for tobacco, it was “highly likely” that he was smoking cannabis at that time.
And while poor judgment and poor decision-making were factors that contributed to the accident, 53-year-old Mr Hopping’s use of the drug could not be excluded as a factor that contributed to the errors of his judgment.
The Commission has made recommendations to the Government, calling for tighter regulations in all sectors of the transport industry, including the prescription of allowable maximum levels for alcohol and implementation of random drug and alcohol testing.
To contact the editor, e-mail: