Balloon pilot smoked weed before crash

2013-10-31 10:58
A young man smoking marijuana. (Pablo Porciuncula, AFP)

A young man smoking marijuana. (Pablo Porciuncula, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Wellington - The pilot of a hot-air balloon that crashed in New Zealand killing all 11 people on board had cannabis in his system, an official report said on Thursday, blaming his poor judgement for the accident.

Investigators called for tighter drug restrictions following the crash in January 2012, when the balloon hit power lines before plunging to the ground in a flaming wreck.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission said pilot Lance Hopping was a long-term cannabis user and a post-mortem examination found the drug in his system.

Chief commissioner John Marshall said two witnesses saw Hopping smoking a substance on the morning of the accident and forensic tests showed no indication he had inhaled tobacco.

Marshall also noted there were no maintenance issues with the balloon and the weather was calm before it crashed near the town of Carterton, north of Wellington, as relatives of those on board watched in horror.

He said it appeared "highly likely" that Hopping, aged 53, smoked cannabis before the flight.

"Having considered all the evidence, the commission found that the accident was caused by errors of judgement by the pilot, and the possibility that the pilot's judgement was impaired by the use of cannabis cannot be excluded," Marshall told reporters.

He said Hopping made a mistake in taking the balloon below the level of the power lines, then when it began drifting towards them he applied the burners to try to climb over them, instead of descending as quickly as possible.

Marshall called for tighter regulations in all sectors of the transport industry, including random testing.

"It is totally unacceptable for anyone in a safety-critical transport role, such as a pilot, to be working while impaired by a substance, whether legal or not," he said.

"Cannabis has both short and long-term impact on judgement, decision-marking, and reaction time depending upon the person, the quantity, and the frequency of use."

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said his department was considering the recommendations and would report back to cabinet early next year.

The 10 passengers who died on the flight with Hopping were five couples from the Wellington region.

It was New Zealand's worst aviation disaster since 1979, when an Air New Zealand jet crashed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing 257 people.

Read more on:    new zealand  |  air crashes  |  narcotics

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.