The pilot of the balloon which crashed in January, killing all 11people on board, had taken cannabis, a report into the tragedyrevealed today. Lance Hopping was the pilot of the balloon when it crashed duringan early morning flight on January 7, near Carterton. The balloontook off shortly after 6.30am, and crashed less than an hour later. "Toxicology tests from the pilot had returned a positive test forcannabis, and further inquiry and analysis related to this issuewas underway," the Transport Accident Investigation Commission(TAIC) said in a news release ahead of a press conference. Shortly before the accident the balloon had descended to between 5mand 7m as it crossed a paddock. |
Then it began to climb and drifttowards a set of power lines alongside the paddock. TAIC says a witness to the accident heard the pilot shout "duckdown" shortly before the balloon hit the power lines. A photographer following the balloon took images which showed oneof the wires caught over the end of the basket. The balloon waslifting the wire upwards, indicating the balloon was trying torise.
TAIC says the balloon began to slide along the power line, thenafter 15 to 30 seconds, an electrical arc caused fire to break outlow down in the basket. Two passengers jumped from the balloon at that point. Investigators said the power line then broke, and the balloon shotupwards, burning fiercely. Once it had reached a height of 150 metres, the balloon collapsedand fell to the ground.
All occupants died at the scene. TAIC stressed that today's report is only an interim one, andwarned against drawing any conclusions based on the facts so farreleased. However it said that blood and urine samples from the pilot hadbeen sent to ESR for analysis, who recorded a positive result fortetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a constituent of cannabis. The resultwill now be subject to further inquiry.
In response to a question from ONE News, TAIC's investigator incharge Ian McClelland said the cannabis finding was a "concern". Call for 'zero tolerance' It is the second finding of cannabis use in the aviation industryin as many days. Yesterday, TAIC revealed two parachute jumpmasters had cannabis in their bodies when the plane carrying themand seven others crashed at Fox Glacier in September 2010. Although not a factor in the crash, the results prompted TAIC tocall for drug and alcohol testing across the aviation industry, anda policy of "zero tolerance" for drug use.
In February, TAIC issued an urgent safety recommendation to theCivil Aviation Authority to check the maintenance of all hot airballoons. In today's report, TAIC said there were anomalies found in themaintenance logbook, and when first interviewed the balloonengineer demonstrated he had not used the correct method prescribedby the manufacturer for testing the strength of the balloon fabric. TAIC says it is aiming to release its final report into the tragedyin March 2013.
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