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
But despite the serious allegations, including that on one
occasion Mr Hopping was "too pissed and/or too high" to fly,
the CAA told the inquest no safety review was conducted.
At the inquest at Wellington District Court today, the lawyer
for some of the families, Alastair Sherriff, produced a CAA
report, , undertaken two months after the fatal crash, into
how historic allegations had been handled by the authority.
Mr Sherriff told reporters outside court today 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 Mr Hopping in the years before the
Those concerns included an ARC on February 4, 2010 about a
balloon flight that was cancelled because Mr Hopping appeared
"too pissed and/or too high to perform piloting duties", the
That incident was not isolated, the report said.
"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
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?" Mr
Sherriff asked Mr Ford, who agreed.
The exact test was not known, nor was the date it was taken,
but Mr Sherriff told reporters it would have been sometime
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
"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
A medical certificate in 2004 pointed to Mr Hopping's "binge
drinking" and a note that he should drink more moderately was
CAA investigators decided to monitor Mr Hopping's balloon
operation on an ongoing basis, the report said.
Mr Sherriff suggested to Mr Ford the two investigators knew
Mr Hopping, but Ford did not know if that was the case.
Mr Sherriff said if the information had been in the media in
2010, nobody would have flown in a balloon with Mr Hopping.
"That's a fair assessment," Mr Ford replied.
Mr Ford said the CAA was a "changed organisation" since 2010,
with a new director, board and senior management team.
"Additional resources have been assigned, specifically
related to investigations or ARC concerns," he said.
Mr Sherriff asked Mr Ford if the CAA had let the public down
in the way it dealt with the ARCs.
"There is no information available to me to say that was the
case," Mr Ford replied.
He agreed with Mr Sherriff that over the 15 years that Mr
Hopping was a pilot, there was no CAA safety review into him.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission had already
established that Mr Hopping's errors were ultimately
responsible for the crash.
At the time, Mr Hopping had cannabis in his system.
His pilot's medical certificate had also lapsed.
The inquest continues.
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