CAA must take some responsibility for deaths

July 30th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

When the Wairarapa tragedy which killed 11 first occurred, I thought it was just incredibly bad luck.

It then emerged the pilot was probably under the influence of cannabis, and I basically blamed the pilot – but thought there was not much you can do if a pilot who is also the owner is stupid enough to do such a thing – that it was a one off.

But it turns out the had complaints in the past and did nothing. That is appalling. The Dom Post reports:

The Civil Aviation Authority took no action when told a balloon pilot had been too “pissed and/or high” to fly, an inquest has been told.

It had also been told , 53, had cheated on pilot exams and impersonated a CAA official.

And he was still licensed!

Sherriff suggested that if the complaints had been revealed that would have prevented the tragedy.

They included an allegation Hopping had on more than one occasion been too “pissed and/or too high” to fly, causing flights to be suspended.

And nothing happened!

Earlier, a CAA manager said further safety restrictions on commercial balloonists could put some out of business.

Tough. 11 people would still be alive though.

The Herald reported:

During questioning in the inquest, Chris Ford from the CAA confirmed there had been a number of Aviation Related Concerns (ARC) about Mr Hopping in the years before the crash.

Those concerns included an ARC on February 4, 2010 about a balloon flight that was cancelled because Mr Hopping appeared “too pissed and/or too high to perform piloting duties”, the report said.

That incident was not isolated, the report said.

“In one incident within the previous two years, an on board crew person had to take over the controls of the balloon because Mr Hopping was incapable of landing it on his own due to impairment.”

Another related to an unauthorised notebook being found on the pilot as he was sitting a flying exam.

“A layman would call that cheating, wouldn’t they?” Mr Sherriff asked Mr Ford, who agreed.

So twice before they knew he had been too pissed or stoned to pilot, and again did nothing. And they knew he cheated on his exams.

The two CAA investigators tasked with looking into the ARCs decided the information they had was “insufficiently reliable” to justify an interview with Mr Hopping, the report said.

“This was because the information provided was of a hearsay nature, from persons who may have had their own agenda in making the assertions.

But they didn’t even talk to him!!!!

A medical certificate in 2004 pointed to Mr Hopping’s “binge drinking” and a note that he should drink more moderately was made.

So the warning bells were not subtle!

Hopping is the person most to blame for what happened. But the CAA are complicit in the 11 deaths in my view.

34 Responses to “CAA must take some responsibility for deaths”

  1. Ross Miller (1,762 comments) says:

    David … I hold a CPL although my piloting days are pretty much over. To some extent the aviation industry is supposed to be self regulating relying on pilot honesty and professionalism. Clearly Hopping possessed neither of those two attributes.

    The CAA was wrong to ignore the quite obvious red flags that were to be seen and acted upon. But equally, his peers in the Carterton community share some of the blame. I used to live in the Wairarapa and my contacts tell me that it was reasonably well known that Hopping was pushing the boundaries with his lifestyle behavior. Why didn’t anyone speak up?

    Small town itis perhaps.

    Vote: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  2. JMS (1,152 comments) says:

    The CAA is a pack of overstaffed, over-funded, lazy, fee collectors.

    Inevitably “rules will be tightened” which simply means the honest and decent players in the industry will have to hand over even more cash to the box-tickers.

    As for safety, nothing will improve.

    Vote: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  3. RRM (12,583 comments) says:

    A bit more regulation will surely fix this. Flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders for balloons?

    Vote: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  4. Longknives (6,412 comments) says:

    I have had some pretty heated debates with Kiwiblog’s Stoner community about this. They refuse to accept that their precious ‘Sacred Herb’ could be responsible for this horrific incident and have vehemently defended this guy..(“Cannabis has never harmed anybody man..”)

    Seems the CAA don’t seem to like facing reality either…

    Vote: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  5. JMS (1,152 comments) says:

    They refuse to accept that their precious ‘Sacred Herb’ could be responsible

    Damn right “the herb” isn’t responsible. The pilot is.

    Just like a drunk driver can’t blame the drink.

    Vote: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 8 You need to be logged in to vote
  6. Zebulon (190 comments) says:

    Why not return the right to sue and abolish ACC? If negligence had real consequences you would immediately see a culture of accountability developing in useless organisations like the CAA.

    Vote: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  7. Manolo (22,075 comments) says:

    Incompetence, negligence, dereliction of duty. The NZ bureaucracy at its worst.

    Vote: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  8. MH (985 comments) says:

    Amazingly inept, disgraceful, ashamed. Angry.

    Vote: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  9. MarkF (108 comments) says:

    Why does this not surprise me?

    I know through a number of my pilot friends just how out of touch the CAA is with lots of things aeronautical. But as usual they remain untouchable or unchallengeable as to their actions.

    Vote: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  10. Griff (13,845 comments) says:

    It is just as likely that any impairment in mr Hoppings flying ability was due to being a drunk.
    He was a heavy binge drinker.
    This includes the little detail that he was known to drink at least 24 cans of beer a week .But of course this would not fit in with your anti pot bias so is ignored.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3 You need to be logged in to vote
  11. Viking2 (14,383 comments) says:

    Wow up.

    This is all background crap.
    I have been missing in action for a few days but have yet to see a proper account of the actions on the day and during the disaster.
    Anything but a clear explanation of those actions is just an attempt to mislead.

    What were the conditions and physical actions and travels that caused to the balloon to catch the wires and once that’s established then you can start on the action and conditions of those in the basket.

    I was in Carterton for a few days previous to this and the days were perfect but the day we left by the time we got to Akatarawa Turnoff there was stinking cold southerly coming thru.

    Just saying the so far he events have been barely prosecuted other than to attempt to vilify the pilot. Just as the CAA did down south. Indeed they have a record for years of that behavoir both publicly and within the industry.

    Of course he can’t defend himself so no one will.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  12. lilman (1,180 comments) says:

    Bloody Stoners,a bunch of losers who aren’t to blame for anything.

    Drugs and alcohol in the workplace are tolerated far too often.

    They make me puke,gutless people who refuse to accept they have no standards and want everyone else to bend to their complete lack of them.

    If a family member was in this tragedy I would sue all and sundry,especially the partner of this shit for brains,as she was complicit.

    Vote: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  13. mandk (2,005 comments) says:

    @ Griff,
    He may have consumed 24 cans of beer a week, but he was not seen having an early morning drink before the flight, and as far as I recall alcohol was not cited as a factor.
    On the other hand, he was seen smoking before the flight, and it wasn’t an ordinary ciggie.

    Vote: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  14. Griff (13,845 comments) says:

    On the other hand, he was seen smoking before the flight, and it wasn’t an ordinary ciggie.

    Was he? all I have seen is that he had pot in his blood
    The report states that there is no way to tell when
    The impairment for alcohol is cumulative and does not depend on him having drunk even that week.
    With pot it would have to have been within 3 hours of the actual mishap according to the science and even then impairment sufficient to cause the accident is inconclusive for a habitual user.

    “At the present time, the evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven.

    To date …, seven studies using culpability analysis have been reported, involving a total of 7,934 drivers. Alcohol was detected as the only drug in 1,785 drivers, and together with cannabis in 390 drivers. Cannabis was detected in 684 drivers, and in 294 of these it was the only drug detected.

    … The results to date of crash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate that drivers with cannabinoids in the blood are significantly more likely than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes. … [In] cases in which THC was the only drug present were analyzed, the culpability ratio was found to be not significantly different from the no-drug group.”

    REFERENCE: G. Chesher and M. Longo. 2002. Cannabis and alcohol in motor vehicle accidents. In: F. Grotenhermen and E. Russo (Eds.) Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential. New York: Haworth Press. Pp. 313-323.

    “Cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving, [but] it has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory. [However,] this in itself does not mean that drivers under the influence of cannabis represent a traffic safety risk. … Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving.”

    REFERENCE: Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. 2002. Cannabis: Summary Report: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy. Ottawa. Chapter 8: Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis.

    “This report has summarized available research on cannabis and driving.

    … Evidence of impairment from the consumption of cannabis has been reported by studies using laboratory tests, driving simulators and on-road observation. … Both simulation and road trials generally find that driving behavior shortly after consumption of larger doses of cannabis results in (i) a more cautious driving style; (ii) increased variability in lane position (and headway); and (iii) longer decision times. Whereas these results indicate a ‘change’ from normal conditions, they do not necessarily reflect ‘impairment’ in terms of performance effectiveness since few studies report increased accident risk.

    REFERENCE: UK Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (Road Safety Division). 2000. Cannabis and Driving: A Review of the Literature and Commentary. Crowthorne, Berks: TRL Limited.

    “Overall, we conclude that the weight of the evidence indicates that:

    There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.
    The evidence concerning the combined effect of cannabis and alcohol on the risk of traffic fatalities and injuries, relative to the risk of alcohol alone, is unclear.
    It is not possible to exclude the possibility that the use of cannabis (with or without alcohol) leads to an increased risk of road traffic crashes causing less serious injuries and vehicle damage.”

    REFERENCE: M. Bates and T. Blakely. 1999. “Role of cannabis in motor vehicle crashes.” Epidemiologic Reviews 21: 222-232.

    “In conclusion, marijuana impairs driving behavior. However, this impairment is mitigated in that subjects under marijuana treatment appear to perceive that they are indeed impaired. Where they can compensate, they do, for example by not overtaking, by slowing down and by focusing their attention when they know a response will be required. … Effects on driving behavior are present up to an hour after smoking but do not continue for extended periods.

    With respect to comparisons between alcohol and marijuana effects, these substances tend to differ in their effects. In contrast to the compensatory behavior exhibited by subjects under marijuana treatment, subjects who have received alcohol tend to drive in a more risky manner. Both substances impair performance; however, the more cautious behavior of subjects who have received marijuana decreases the impact of the drug on performance, whereas the opposite holds true for alcohol.”

    REFERENCE: A. Smiley. 1999. Marijuana: On-Road and Driving-Simulator Studies. In: H. Kalant et al. (Eds) The Health Effects of Cannabis. Toronto: Center for Addiction and Mental Health. Pp. 173-191.

    “Intoxication with cannabis leads to a slight impairment of psychomotor … function. … [However,] the impairment in driving skills does not appear to be severe, even immediately after taking cannabis, when subjects are tested in a driving simulator. This may be because people intoxicated by cannabis appear to compensate for their impairment by taking fewer risks and driving more slowly, whereas alcohol tends to encourage people to take great risks and drive more aggressively.”

    REFERENCE: UK House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. 1998. Ninth Report. London: United Kingdom. Chapter 4: Section 4.7.

    “The evidence suggests that marijuana presents a real, but secondary safety risk; and that alcohol is the leading drug-related accident risk factor.”

    REFERENCES: D. Gieringer. 1988. Marijuana, driving, and accident safety. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 20: 93-101.


    “For each of 2,500 injured drivers presenting to a hospital, a blood sample was collected for later analysis.

    There was a clear relationship between alcohol and culpability. … In contrast, there was no significant increase in culpability for cannabinoids alone. While a relatively large number of injured drivers tested positive for cannabinoids, culpability rates were no higher than those for the drug free group. This is consistent with other findings.”

    REFERENCE: Logan, M.C., Hunter, C.E., Lokan, R.J., White, J.M., & White, M.A. (2000). The Prevalence of Alcohol, Cannabinoids, Benzodiazepines and Stimulants Amongst Injured Drivers and Their Role in Driver Culpability: Part II: The Relationship Between Drug Prevalence and Drug Concentration, and Driver Culpability. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 32, 623-32.

    “Blood samples from 894 patients presenting to two Emergency Departments for treatment of motor vehicle injur[ies] … were tested for alcohol and other drugs.

    … Based on alcohol and drug testing of the full range of patients … alcohol is clearly the major drug associated with serious crashes and greater injury. Patients testing positive for illicit drugs (marijuana, opiates, and cocaine), in the absence of alcohol, were in crashes very similar to those of patients with neither alcohol nor drugs. When other relevant variables were considered, these drugs were not associated with more severe crashes or greater injury.”

    REFERENCE: P. Waller et al. 1997. Crash characteristics and injuries of victims impaired by alcohol versus illicit drugs. Accident Analysis and Prevention 29: 817-827.

    “Blood specimens were collected from a sample of 1,882 drivers from 7 states, during 14 months in the years 1990 and 1991. The sample comprised operators of passenger cars, trucks, and motorcycles who died within 4 hours of their crash.

    … While cannabinoids were detected in 7 percent of the drivers, the psychoactive agent THC was found in only 4 percent. … The THC-only drivers had a responsibility rate below that of the drugfree drivers. … While the difference was not statistically significant, there was no indication that cannabis by itself was a cause of fatal crashes.”

    REFERENCE: K. Terhune. 1992. The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Report No. DOT HS 808 065.


    “Marijuana’s effects on actual driving performance were assessed in a series of three studies wherein dose-effect relationships were measured in actual driving situations that progressively approached reality.

    … THC’s effects on road-tracking after doses up to 300 µg/kg never exceeded alcohol’s at bacs of 0.08%; and, were in no way unusual compared to many medicinal drugs. Yet, THC’s effects differ qualitatively from many other drugs, especially alcohol. Evidence from the present and previous studies strongly suggests that alcohol encourages risky driving whereas THC encourages greater caution, at least in experiments. Another way THC seems to differ qualitatively from many other drugs is that the formers users seem better able to compensate for its adverse effects while driving under the influence.”

    REFERENCE: H. Robbe. 1995. Marijuana’s effects on actual driving performance. In: C. Kloeden and A. McLean (Eds) Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety T-95. Adelaide: Australia: HHMRC Road Research Unit, University of Adelaide. Pp. 11-20.

    “This report concerns the effects of marijuana smoking on actual driving performance. … This program of research has shown that marijuana, when taken alone, produces a moderate degree of driving impairment which is related to consumed THC dose. The impairment manifests itself mainly in the ability to maintain a lateral position on the road, but its magnitude is not exceptional in comparison with changes produced by many medicinal drugs and alcohol. Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence, THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”

    REFERENCE: W. Hindrik and J. Robbe and J. O’Hanlon. 1993. Marijuana and actual driving performance. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Report No. DOT HS 808 078.

    Table compiled by the UK Department of Transport (2000)


    “Overall, it is possible to conclude that cannabis has a measurable effect on psychomotor performance, particularly tracking ability. Its effect on higher cognitive functions, for example divided attention tasks associated with driving, appear not to be as critical. Drivers under the influence of cannabis seem aware that they are impaired, and attempt to compensate for this impairment by reducing the difficulty of the driving task, for example by driving more slowly.

    In terms of road safety, it cannot be concluded that driving under the influence of cannabis is not a hazard, as the effects of various aspects of driver performance are unpredictable. However, in comparison with alcohol, the severe effects of alcohol on the higher cognitive processes of driving are likely to make this more of a hazard, particularly at higher blood alcohol levels.”

    REFERENCE: B. Sexton et al. 2000. The influence of cannabis on driving: A report prepared for the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Road Safety Division). Crowthorne, Berks: TRL Limited.

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 You need to be logged in to vote
  15. G152 (1,825 comments) says:

    CAA has staff problems leading to the Erebus Inquiry fiasco along with the many other Accident Reports later revised.
    We have TWO fatal ballooning accidents in over 50 years.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  16. jackinabox (781 comments) says:

    “No one person was responsible” is the excuse they will give when all the lies are told.

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  17. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:

    When Conservation failed and innocent people died, National Party MP and Conservation Minister Denis Marshall said he must accept responsibility for the deaths and nobly resigned, after first ensuring that measures were in place to ensure such a tragedy would never occur again.

    When Civil Aviation failed and innocent people died, National Party MP and Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee… *crickets*

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  18. freemark (938 comments) says:

    Yet the CAA will have time & resources to conduct a pointless & spurious exercise re: Brownlee, and has the time & resources to carry out pointless screening on obviously zero risk passengers..

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  19. freemark (938 comments) says:

    Rex Widerstrom (5,262 comments) says:
    July 30th, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    and bugger any personal responsibility by the actual people that let it happen? IMO Ministers should resign if their own actions were heinous, or dangerous, or severely damaging to NZ & NZers.

    Maybe the CEO should go as well, or the HOD..

    Vote: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  20. Longknives (6,412 comments) says:

    Griff- You keep hanging on to your ‘Cannabis has never killed anybody’ line mate (Like a drowning man grasping at straws..)
    The rest of us are rightfully disgusted at this Pothead’s reckless disregard for the lives of his clients…

    Vote: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5 You need to be logged in to vote
  21. Griff (13,845 comments) says:

    The guy was a piss head
    As a piss head drunk or sober he was a risk
    you just keep your little mind fuck going longknifes
    ignore the fact that as a piss head he should not have been flying at all ever if it makes you feel ok
    meantime in the real world we still have hospitals courts jails and morgues full of the result of drunken wankers.

    Vote: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4 You need to be logged in to vote
  22. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:


    In my view it’s a case of “in addition to” not “instead of” the people responsible.

    A Minister is paid handsomely to ensure that their department is functioning properly. Surely a Minister whose department was, on the one hand, responsible for the lives and safety of people and, on the other, for deciding who gets to pursue various professions would, as part of their induction, think to assure themselves that such an important function was being performed correctly?

    And, if it failed in such a spectacular fashion, would be leaving no stone unturned in rooting out just what is wrong in his Department… starting by talking to people like some of those above, who have dealings with CAA and seem to have some insight into its problems.

    Vote: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  23. JMS (1,152 comments) says:


    you’re wasting you time with Longknives.

    All you will get is strawman arguments and red herrings.

    Personal responsibility is a foreign concept to those conservative types.
    Nanny state busybodies.

    I’m sure he’s not a stoner. But looking at his reasoning capabilites, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not only his liver he has damaged with his drug use.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  24. mudrunner (107 comments) says:

    So we also have ” … an on board crew person…”.

    Striving for gender neutrality, surely it was a man or women, or to really annoy the PC types – member.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  25. Griff (13,845 comments) says:

    The abruptness of my last post was due to
    having a quite drink.
    unlike when I have a quite smoke.
    Then my language goes up around five reading levels.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  26. Nukuleka (1,059 comments) says:

    DPF seems to be once again trying to divert attention away from the negative impacts of marijuana use. What is going on here?

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 You need to be logged in to vote
  27. JMS (1,152 comments) says:

    DPF seems to be once again trying to divert attention away from the negative impacts of marijuana use. What is going on here?

    What’s going on here? The resident conservonutters are diverting attention away from the real issues, ie:

    *the catastrophic choices made by a criminally irresponsible pilot for his unknowing passengers
    *and a fat, lazy, bureaucracy.

    Focusing instead on nannying people in their own homes.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  28. Rex Widerstrom (5,113 comments) says:


    Note: when trying to convince people that smoking and drinking does not affect one’s cognition, it helps not to mistake ‘quite’ for ‘quiet’.

    Unless you were telling us you’ve had quite a lot to drink 😀

    And for the record… I want my pilot’s mind to be clear of any substance and focused on flying. If the bastard has so much as had an aspirin because he has a headache… next please, because my luck is such that it’d be a precursor to an aneurysm or a stroke and it wouldn’t be fair to take everyone else down with me.

    Vote: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  29. MC2000 (25 comments) says:

    The CAA was worried that further regulation would put people out of business, and Kiwiblog says “tough”! Some things are more important than freedom from regulation.


    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  30. Griff (13,845 comments) says:

    Dear dear Rex its the third time that computerized typo has emerged in the last week.
    I can not spell
    so what
    many on here can not even think
    try correcting their posts next time

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  31. ross001 (887 comments) says:

    There’s been quite a few ballooning tragedies around the world. I am not aware that all of them were caused by drunk or drugged pilots….in fact I suspect very few were.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  32. ross001 (887 comments) says:

    Indeed there was a similar accident in Virginia in May. The pilot and two passengers were killed after their balloon struck power lines and caught fire. Maybe the pilot will be vilified in that case, or maybe a more measured conclusion will be reached.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  33. Sarkozygroupie (449 comments) says:

    Ross Miller,

    You may not be aware of the other members of the group that Lance Hopping was involved in. It is known, at least by some people in the town that ‘lifestyle’ led by this group involved a lot more than just alcohol and cannabis, and there were some not very nice people in it. You had to be “initiated” and ‘membership’ was by select word of mouth invitation only …

    I don’t believe that the entire town was aware of this group – I was told by a fellow Cartertonian who I worked with here in Wellington, and I heard it from her over here (after the balloon accident). I was shocked by what she told me. I’ve never heard anyone speak of this group over there. If people did know about it they will also know of the type of people involved. And you wouldn’t want to do anything to bring the attention of these people on yourself ever, believe me. I suspect that people kept their mouths shut in order to keep themselves and their families safe.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote
  34. Maggy Wassilieff (3,655 comments) says:

    According to DomPost, the co-owner of the balloon was also legally responsible for safety checks on the pilot.

    Hard to credit that the CAA couldn’t see a glaring conflict of interest here.

    Vote: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 You need to be logged in to vote