When the Wairarapa ballooning 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 CAA 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 Lance Hopping, 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.