24 Apr 2015

CAA knew pilot was chronic drug user - report

5:24 am on 24 April 2015

The father of one of the youngest victims of the Carterton balloon tragedy has always wondered how authorities didn't know the pilot was a chronic drug user.

The coroner has released four photos of the Carterton hot-air balloon tragedy.

The coroner has released four photos of the Carterton hot-air balloon tragedy. Photo: SUPPLIED

Now he knows the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was told. They just didn't listen.

Coroner Peter Ryan yesterday released his report into the tragedy, which claimed the lives of pilot Lance Hopping and his 10 passengers when the balloon they were in became trapped in power lines near the Wairapara town of Carterton on 7 January 2012.

Chrisjan Jordaan was 20, girlfriend Alexis Still just 19. Also killed were Stephen Hopkirk, Belinda Harter, Denise Dellabarca, Desmond Dean, Ann Dean, Howard Cox, Diana Cox and Valerie Bennett.

Coroner Ryan said in his report Mr Hopping was a chronic cannabis user, had traces of it in his blood and that it may have impaired his reactions when the balloon became trapped; instead of doing a "rip-out" and rapidly deflating the balloon, he tried to out-climb the lines.

"Had he done so... it appears there would have been a significant chance that all of these lives would have been saved," the coroner said.

It was possible his decision-making ability was impaired due to his drug use, he said.

Chrisjan's father, Jan Jordaan, said the report put to rest "a bit" his questions around Mr Hopping's drug use and why the authorities did not know about it; they did but failed to act.

Pilot Lance Hopping.

Pilot Lance Hopping. Photo: Geoff Walker Photography

The report said the CAA had received four complaints about Mr Hopping, including one where he was said to be "too high to fly" and another when a crew member had to take control because he was too impaired to land his balloon on his own.

But the CAA decided that because the information was secondhand, and the informant a competitor, Mr Hopping's operation would simply be monitored.

"They knew about his problem. They didn't listen," Mr Jordaan said.

He was also critical of the CAA's slowness in implementing a rule change introducing mandatory alcohol and drug testing for adventure aviation operators; it came into force four months after the tragedy - seven years after its rollout started.

"If it was in place, Lance Hopping wouldn't have been on that balloon," Mr Jordaan said. "Now we know and we can accept."

Mr Jordaan and wife Annie also have two daughters, Anmari and Elrie. He said Chrisjan always looked out for them all.

"He had a really nice way of talking to me," Mr Jordaan said. "I miss that."

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs