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Balloon crash pilot ‘too high’ too fly

Balloon crash pilot ‘too high’ too fly
August 1, 2014

Complaints were made about hot air balloon pilot Lance Hopping being too impaired to fly, and cheating on his pilot's test before the Carterton balloon disaster, but no action was taken.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) revealed the previous allegations at a coronial inquest into the Carterton tragedy during the past week.

However, despite the serious allegations, which included Hopping being "too pissed and/or too high" to fly on one occasion, the CAA told the inquest no safety review was conducted.

At the inquest at Wellington District Court this week, Alastair Sherriff, lawyer for some of the families of the 10 victims, produced a CAA report undertaken two months after the fatal crash, into how historic allegations had been handled by the authority.

Sherriff told reporters outside court that the CAA gave up the report "involuntarily" and today was the first time it had been made public.

During questioning in the inquest, Chris Ford from the CAA confirmed there had been a number of Aviation Related Concerns (ARC) about Lance Hopping in the years before the crash.

Those concerns included an ARC on 4th February 2010 about a balloon flight that was cancelled because Hopping appeared "too pissed and/or too high to perform piloting duties", according to the report.

That incident was not isolated, the report said, adding "in one incident within the previous two years, an on board crew person had to take over the controls of the balloon because Mr Hopping was incapable of landing it on his own due to impairment."

Another related to an unauthorised notebook being found on the pilot as he was sitting a flying exam.

"A layman would call that cheating, wouldn't they?" Sherriff asked Ford, who agreed.

The exact test was not known, nor was the date it was taken, but Sherriff told reporters it would have been sometime before 2010.

The two CAA investigators tasked with looking into the ARCs decided the information they had was "insufficiently reliable" to justify an interview with Mr Hopping, the report said.

It added "this was because the information provided was of a hearsay nature, from persons who may have had their own agenda in making the assertions (and) the Police could not provide any relevant information."

A medical certificate in 2004 pointed to Hopping's "binge drinking" and a note that he should drink more moderately was made.

CAA investigators decided to monitor Hopping's balloon operation on an ongoing basis, the report said.

Sherriff suggested to Ford the two investigators knew Hopping, but Ford did not know if that was the case.

Sherriff said if the information had been in the media in 2010, nobody would have flown in a balloon with Hopping.

"That's a fair assessment," Ford replied, adding that the CAA was a "changed organisation" since 2010, with a new director, board and senior management team.

Ford continued "additional resources have been assigned, specifically related to investigations or ARC concerns."

Sherriff asked Ford if the CAA had let the public down in the way it dealt with the ARCs.

Ford added "there is no information available to me to say that was the case," agreeing with Sherriff that over the 15 years that Hopping was a pilot, there was no CAA safety review into him.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission had already established that Hopping's errors were ultimately responsible for the crash.

At the time, Hopping had cannabis in his system and his pilot's medical certificate had also lapsed.

The inquest continues.

APNZ

Image show the balloon shortly before the crash.

14th July 2014 - NEW ZEALAND MUST PROTECT ITS GLOBAL ADVENTURE TOURISM REPUTATION

2nd November 2013 - PILOT ERROR BLAMED FOR FATAL NEW ZEALAND BALLOON CRASH 

 


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