The Carterton balloon inquiry

February 23rd, 2013 at 10:01 am by David Farrar

Matt Stewart at Stuff reports:

Carterton balloon crash pilot Lance Hopping should not have been flying the day he and 10 passengers died, a damning report by the Civil Aviation Authority reveals.

The health and safety report shows Mr Hopping’s medical certificate had expired about six weeks before the fatal flight. He should not have been piloting a commercial aircraft.

At 7.22am on January 7 last year, the balloon burst into flames after hitting a power line, then crashed into a paddock just north of Carterton, killing Mr Hopping and his 10 passengers, including two who jumped or fell from the basket.

It has not been revealed how many other flights he piloted after his medical certificate lapsed. The six weeks covered Christmas and New Year, which are usually busy times for .

That’s very bad, especially considering Hopping was the current of former President of Ballooning industry body.

In May, an interim report by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission showed toxicology tests on Mr Hopping’s body four days after the crash proved positive for cannabis.

The report says Mr Hopping had time to activate the safety valve at the top of the balloon, which allows for a quick but controlled descent, but did not do so. It finds that he failed to meet his obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, and those failures contributed to the accident.

“The balloon had on-board safety features, including a rapid deflation system and a parachute valve, but there was no evidence that the passengers were ever briefed on their use, and in the event, they were never deployed,” CAA director Graeme Harris said this week.

“Insufficient communication between the balloon and the ground crew, particularly during the landing phase of the flight, was also cited as a contributing factor.”

I initially though the accident was a freak unavoidable event. Sadly it seems it was not.

The CAA website is horrific for finding info. I’m not sure if the report is online or not. Can anyone locate it?

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27 Responses to “The Carterton balloon inquiry”

  1. Longknives (4,039 comments) says:

    Fucking potheads and their fucking precious ‘Sacred Herb’.

    Imagine the howls of outrage if a drunk driver had killed TEN innocent people..

    Smoke as much Pot as you like but don’t drive (or fly), and don’t fucking bleat on at me about how “harmless” Cannabis is. It’s a fucking drug morons.

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  2. Flyer (20 comments) says:

    It should be on the TAIC site here: http://www.taic.org.nz/ReportsandSafetyRecs/AviationReports/tabid/78/language/en-NZ/Default.aspx but they only seem to have the intierim report on-line today.

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  3. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    Sorry, this is complete bullshit.

    The expired certificate and the traces of cannabis are side issues that have no direct bearing on what occurred that day.

    Any opinion I might have on the technical matter of not operating the safety valves would be unsound as I know nothing of ballooning, but it seems to me that is about the only legit issue here.

    It’s too easy for shiney arsed bureaucrats to try and justify their existence by attacking a dead man who cannot give his side of the story.

    If the medical certificate is so essential to keeping passengers alive, why are the measures for ensuring they are kept current so obviously slack?

    If this is truly the cause of the loss of so many lives, then sack the bureaucrats who did not police the matter as they should have.

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  4. Anthony (736 comments) says:

    Unless he was likely to have failed his medical certificate, its expiry has no bearing the cause of the crash. The failure to activate the safety valve is more concerning though.

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  5. Viking2 (10,702 comments) says:

    The ballon hit power lines and no med cert or any saftey device would have moved the power lines.

    Arse covering and bullshit spin.
    The CAA is full of it.

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  6. Sb (52 comments) says:

    The expired certificate is relevant, not because of itself, but because it points to a general lack of care and a “she’ll be
    right ” attitude.

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  7. Australis (99 comments) says:

    Was the expiry of the medical certificate merely a bureaucratic slip, or did it contribute in some way to the accident? Were the cannabis traces sufficient to indicate that Mr Hopping’s ability to control the helicopter would have been seriously impaired?

    Until these questions are clarified, it is premature to assume that this wasn’t a freak unavoidable accident.

    There is a fashionable tendency to assume that all accidents should be avoided and somebody must be blamed for any untoward incident.

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  8. BlairM (2,266 comments) says:

    THC stays in the system for a long time. Doesn’t mean he was baked when he was flying the balloon.

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  9. Sb (52 comments) says:

    “Was the expiry of the medical certificate merely a bureaucratic slip”

    It is the responsibility of the individual not the CAA to make sure that all details such as a current medical certificate , type rating etc are correct.

    In order to get a licence he will have completed some sort of Air Law test where it will have been spelt out in detail that it was his responsibility and no ones else’s.

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  10. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    There is hardly ever a really truely unavoidable accident in these cases. ie: there is almost always one or more contributing factors of human origin – which in themselves wouldnt cause the result – but added together result in run-away happenings that eventually all go wrong.

    There are pleny of factors in this case:
    1. drugs in system
    2. no medical certificate
    3. didnt use any safety backup systems
    4. was obviously dangerously close to power lines
    5. Obviously wrong altitude

    Now – in themselves each one wouldnt be a major problem in itself – assuming a pilot who was on the ball, but with some drugs in the system that cause a false sense of security, obvious lack of attention to detail (medical certificate), lack of spatial awareness (close to power lines), and an unwillingness (probably due to the drugs) to use safety systems – resulted in the assembly hitting the power lines.

    It wasnt an accident – it was totally avoidable.

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  11. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    The CAA is saying eleven people died because the Certificate was not current.

    If this is so then they should all be sacked for not ensuring that such certificates are kept up to date.

    They should have been at Mr. Hopping’s office the very day after it expired making sure he did not fly until it was renewed.

    Sure Mr. Hopping had a responsibility to himself to renew the cert, but if it so important that 11 people can die as a result of its non-renewal, the responsibility should not have been left to the pilot alone.

    These bureaucrats are paid to do a job. By their own admission, they have failed here, and that failure has resulted in eleven lives being lost.

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  12. Sb (52 comments) says:

    If this is so then they should all be sacked for not ensuring that such certificates are kept up to date.”

    It is not their job to do this – it is the responsibility %100 of the time and in all circumstances that of the Pilot.

    ” the responsibility should not have been left to the pilot alone.”

    Air Law makes it completely clear – its is the pilot alone who has responsibility not the CAA or anybody else

    “These bureaucrats are paid to do a job. ”

    And its not their job and they are not paid to do what you are suggesting.

    Perhaps Air Law should be changed but in this case the CAA did nothing wrong.

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  13. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    “Air Law makes it completely clear – its is the pilot alone who has responsibility not the CAA or anybody else”

    Well, if that is so then the air law should have been changed and who to do that other than these useless bureaucrats who are now pointing the finger at Mr. Hopping??

    Just trying to deflect from their own incompetence.

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  14. lazza (296 comments) says:

    My recent dealings with the CAA on matters of aviation safety leave me with grave forebodings. They appear to adopt a wait and see if we have a problem attitude then … Oh Dear another fatal crash … NOW, maybe we will look into it … hardly a proactive virile kinda outfit!

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  15. Sb (52 comments) says:

    Well, if that is so then the air law should have been changed and who to do that other than these useless bureaucrats who are now pointing the finger at Mr. Hopping??”

    Still wrong Redbaiter – the CAA does not make Air Law – the NZ Parliament does

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  16. Sb (52 comments) says:

    I would also point out that the medical examiner who issued him with his previous medical certificate and the organisation he was working for should both have reminded him of upcoming expiry.

    It does not take 6 weeks to renew so this suggests that he did not just forget but that he actively ignored the reminders.

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  17. insider (990 comments) says:

    So resdbaiter is calling for a nanny state govt to be constantly peering into the affairs of business people and professionals. Way to go on personal responsibility….

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  18. Reid (15,507 comments) says:

    Hopefully the final report when it appears on the interweb will clarify this but to me the crucial question is did the pilot make a judgement error by not deploying that deflation system when he hit the wires.

    If you look at the interim report they have a diagram of the flight path and you can see the final descent path is quite erratic and seems to indicate the balloon was being blown longitudinally alongside the wires as opposed to how I’d imagined it, which was approaching the wire at right angles. This path could explain why the pilot was late getting on the burners to lift it over but as I say to me, once he’d hit them, should he have then activated that deflation system?

    Had he done so it would have meant of course that when the basket touched the ground the envelope would have been brushing the wires which would have presumably been a danger in itself since it was then earthed. Which maybe why the pilot didn’t take that option, as opposed to being baked.

    Anyone who’s smoked a joint knows that after it wears off in a few hours your judgement returns to normal so even if he’d had a few the night before, this doesn’t mean that was a causal factor in the accident. Sadly however people who haven’t ever smoked a joint don’t understand this and I suspect that many will latch onto this “cannabis in the system” issue as being the root cause of this tragedy, which may or may not be true.

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  19. Elaycee (4,064 comments) says:

    Totally daft that some try to apportion blame on the CAA for this tragedy….

    If this was not a balloon accident but rather a charter boat captain who:

    (a) Was not authorised to operate as skipper because he had not renewed his medical certificate
    (b) Failed to brief his passengers properly on safety measures on board etc
    (c) Had a boat that was not properly maintained
    (d) Maybe had impaired judgement because of the presence of dope in his system
    (e) Made poor decisions / hit rocks / boat sunk / total loss of life

    Would the same people who want to direct blame for the balloon accident at the CAA, now want to blame Maritime NZ for a boat tragedy that occurred because of poor decisions made by a moron? And if it wasn’t a balloon accident but rather a bus accident (with similar, tragic outcomes), would the same people try and blame the LTSA because the driver was an idiot and made bad decisions that killed all on board?

    Nah – of course not. The balloon accident was a direct result of several poor decisions by the pilot.

    Actions have consequences. In this case, the very poor actions of the pilot, cost 10 people their lives.

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  20. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    “In this case, the very poor actions of the pilot, cost 10 people their lives.”

    So you disagree with the CAA’s claim that the expired medical certificate was an important factor in the accident?

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  21. tvb (3,938 comments) says:

    The circumstances surrounding the expired medical certificate should be looked into. If he had a medical condition that would have prevented the renewal then what condition and would that have impaired his ability to fly.

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  22. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    “Way to go on personal responsibility….”

    Another Ayn Rand intellectual slob without a strategy or an idea to save himself.

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  23. Elaycee (4,064 comments) says:

    @Redbaiter: I’ve just had another quick read of the TIAC interim report and I can’t find any reference to the CAA / TIAC saying that it was ‘an important factor’ but for sure, the CAA certainly pointed out the pilot should not have been flying in the first place (because his Medical Certificate was not current). As a commercial pilot, he has to abide by the rules. Same as a pilot for Air NZ or Emirates.

    The Report also said that the balloon was not properly maintained.
    The Report also said the pilot didn’t fully brief the passengers on some safety matters.
    The Report said toxicology reports confirmed the pilot had dope in his system (an inference of impaired judgement).
    The Report suggested the pilot could have cleared the power lines had he taken evasive action moments earlier. (In fact, when the balloon hit the power lines, it was actually ascending….. but clearly not fast enough to avoid a hook up / subsequent arc / fire etc)
    Plus there are other factors listed …

    Now I’m no great fan of the CAA. But I don’t agree they’re at fault on this occasion.

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  24. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    Elaycee- The whole point is what impact (if any) did these so called factors really have on the accident? On what occurred at the time the balloon hit the wires.

    If nothing then it is just the usual deceitful hysteria from an under-performing self-serving government entity.

    Did the medical certificate factor when the balloon hit the wires?

    Did the safety briefing factor when the balloon hit the wires?

    Did the residual dope in the pilot’s system factor when the balloon hit the wires?

    Saying the pilot could have taken evasive action earlier is just classic Monday morning quarter backing.

    This is just the usual poor standard that one unfortunately expects these days from almost every government agency staffed as this one is by incompetent over-paid shiny arsed desk pilots.

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  25. Johnboy (13,342 comments) says:

    The power wires probably arced and melted the aluminium propane bottles so causing a flare that hopefully killed the passengers before the heat caused the balloon to ascend rapidly while burning and then descending even more rapidly once burnt out to the ground. No one will ever know and all you can hope for is that they all died quickly.

    Too many micky mouse operators seem to be involved in this sort of “Adventure Tourism”. It took a long time to get a PPL when I did it and I hope that the requirements are even tougher now than they were then.

    As for the losers that espouse drug usage as normal. You all really need to get a bloody grip on reality.

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  26. Redbaiter (6,464 comments) says:

    “You all really need to get a bloody grip on reality.”

    Tsk tsk.. already told you about that.

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  27. thedavincimode (6,102 comments) says:

    There seems to be a familiar echo in here. I think it’s …. yes, stupidity. Nothing like a Stuff article as a basis to draw conclusions. Why bother with the source document, and why bother with recording facts that have been ascertained in the course of an inquiry?

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