12 May 2014

Inquest into fatal balloon crash begins

8:01 am on 12 May 2014

A hot air balloon crash which killed the operator and 10 passengers near Carterton in January 2012 will on Monday be the subject of an inquest in the Wellington Coroner's Court.

Those killed in the crash were the balloon pilot, Lance Hopping who was 53, Howard and Diana Cox of Wellington, who were 71 and 63 respectively, Desmond Dean, who was 70 and his wife Ann Dean, who was 65 from Masterton.

Police and firefighters at the site of the balloon crash on 8 January 2012.

Police and firefighters at the site of the balloon crash on 8 January 2012. Photo: AFP

Others included cousins Valerie Bennett from Masterton, who was 70 and Denise Dellabarca from Paraparaumu, who was 58, and partners Stephen Hopkirk, who was 50 and Belinda Harter, who was 59, from Lower Hutt.

The youngest were Chrisjan Jordan who was 21 and his girlfriend, Alexis Still, who was 19, both of whom lived in Wellington.

The crash occurred on a bright sunny day and happened when the balloon became entangled in high voltage power lines while flying across the Carterton countryside.

Two of the passengers jumped from the balloon at a height of about 20 metres and died from their injuries.

The others died after the basket and balloon caught fire, causing the craft to plummet to the ground.

Several investigations already taken place

The balloon crash has already been reviewed by several other agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority and the Transport Accident Investigation Authority.

The Transport Investigation Commission report was released in November last year and concluded it had been an unsafe manoeuvre for the pilot to allow the balloon to descend below the level of the power lines and remain at a low level as it crossed a field bounded by high voltage wires on two sides.

The TAIC also said that when the collision was unavoidable, the pilot should have followed the balloon manufacturer's advice and rapidly descended, instead of making it climb, giving passengers a better chance of survival

The same investigation also revealed the pilot, Lance Hopping, had THC in his blood stream, caused by longterm and recent use of cannabis, a drug it said can affect a person's judgement and decision-making ability, both of which were factors in the crash.

The Civil Aviation Authority also investigated the crash and found that Mr Hopping should not have been piloting the balloon because his medical certificate had expired about six weeks before the crash.

That organisation also found there was no evidence that passengers had been briefed on the balloon's safety features and the balloon was not airworthy.

Inquest set down for a week

Monday's inquest is the final investigation left into this horrific crash.

It is set down for a week and about 12 witnesses are expected to give evidence.

Coroner Peter Ryan will then take some time to consider all the evidence, before releasing his findings into the balloon crash and any recommendations he feels need to be made.