Families of the victims who died in the Carterton balloon
crash have hit out at New Zealand's "high level of
complacency" towards drug use.
Findings of a Transport Accident Investigation Commission
(TAIC) inquiry into the January 2012 tragedy, released today,
lay blame with the actions of pilot Lance Hopping - who had
cannabis in his system at the time.
The investigation found the 11 victims may have survived if
the 53-year-old had decided to immediately descend when it
became clear the balloon would strike power lines.
His decision to instead try to out-climb the power lines was
an "error in judgement".
The pilot had 2 micrograms of cannabis per litre of blood in
his system, which was consistent with smoking the drug 4-6
Today's report found the possibility that Mr Hopping's
performance had been impaired by the drug could not be
Sheryl Rule, a relative of two women on the fatal trip, said
the report showed her aunt Valerie Bennett and cousin Denise
Dellabarca had died in an avoidable tragedy.
Today's report "confirms to us the high level of complacency
we have as a nation to drug use, especially cannabis," she
"While what people do in their own time is not our concern,
when they take other peoples lives in their hands, when they
get behind the wheel of a car, the helm of a boat or pilot a
balloon while drug-impaired, showing complete disregard for
the value of other people's lives, it should be everyone's
Allan and Vivienne Still, parents of 19-year-old Alexis Still
- who was on the early morning trip with her boyfriend
Chrisjan Jordaan, 21 - said their daughter would never have
boarded the flight if she had known Mr Hopping was a "chronic
"The pilot's drug-taking habits and that he very probably
used drugs immediately prior to taking 10 people on the
flight, indicate that this was a man who did not consider or
care what the impact of his illegal behaviour would have on
those who paid him for an experience of a lifetime."
The Stills and Ms Rule have called for mandatory random drug
testing in the industry.
Prime Minister John Key said while mandatory testing would be
"ideal", enforcing the practice could be difficult.
"It is unacceptable for anyone in a safety-critical role to
be impaired by drugs or alcohol," a spokeswoman for Mr Key
"Mandatory testing would be ideal, but it is not easily
enforced in this small operator industry, however we are not
ruling it out if problems persist."
The Civil Aviation Authority said it now placed greater
scrutiny on the adventure and tourism aviation industry, but
there was a need for further drug and alcohol testing in the
TAIC chief commissioner John Marshall said mandatory random
drug testing was needed within the aviation, marine and rail
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said the Transport Ministry
would make their own recommendations on the report in
* A last-minute change in wind direction carried the balloon
towards the power lines which the loaded balloon was probably
not capable of out-climbing
* Pilot Lance Hopping exercised poor judgement by attempting
to out-climb the power lines
* Mr Hopping did not have a current medical certificate as
required by Civil Aviation rules
* Toxicology results showed Mr Hopping had cannabis in his
* The accident was caused by errors of judgement by Mr
* The possibility that the pilot's performance was impaired
as a result of ingesting cannabis cannot be excluded
* Introduce maximum levels for alcohol
* Prohibit persons from operating an aircraft, vessel or rail
vehicle if impaired by drugs
* Require drug and alcohol detection and deterrence regimes,
including random testing.
Pilot Lance Hopping, 53
Valerie Bennett, 70
Ms Bennett's cousin Denise Dellabarca, 58
Husband and wife Desmond and Ann Dean, aged 70 and 65.
Husband and wife Howard and Diana Cox, aged 71 and 63
Lower Hutt couple Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter,
Couple Chrisjan Jordaan, 21, and Alexis Still, 19
- by Matthew Backhouse, additional reporting Teuila