23 Feb 2013

Balloon crash pilot should not have been flying - CAA

7:12 pm on 23 February 2013

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has revealed the pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed near Carterton killing everyone on board should not have been flying because his medical certificate had expired.

Pilot Lance Hopping had 10 passengers on board his balloon when it plummeted to the ground in flames after hitting a power line in January 2012.

A CAA health and safety report said Mr Hopping failed to meet his obligations under the Health and Safety Act and that contributed to the crash.

It says his medical certificate had expired about six weeks before the crash and he should not have been flying.

The report found no evidence the passengers were briefed on the balloon's safety features or how to use them, and it says there was insufficent communication with the ground crew, especially when landing.

But balloonists say they're surprised the report has criticised the pilot for not showing passengers how to operate emergency equipment.

The president of the Balloon Aviation Association, Martyn Stacey, says a passenger could make a situation worse by trying to use emergency equipment, and should instead rely on the pilot's experience and knowledge.

Father of victim not surprised

Allan Still, whose 19-year-old daughter, Alexis Still, died in the crash says he's very disappointed but not surprised by the findings.

He says the new report is yet more evidence undermining the pilot's supposed reputation as a safe operator.

Mr Still says Alexis had told him that Mr Hopping was the safest pilot around, but that obviously wasn't the case and it hasn't helped him in the way he deals with the tragedy.

An interim report by transport investigators last year revealed the balloon was not airworthy due to problems with its maintenance and that Mr Hopping had cannabis in his system.