New Zealand hot air balloon crash pilot 'used cannabis'

A Police photographer is lifted up in a Fire service ladder unit at the hot air balloon accident site on 7 January 2012 in Carterton, New Zealand
Image caption The balloon plunged to the ground after catching fire

The pilot of a hot air balloon that crashed in New Zealand, killing 11, is likely to have smoked cannabis shortly before the flight, investigators say.

Pilot Lance Hopping showed poor judgement which contributed to the 2012 crash, an official report said.

The crash near the town of Carterton, Wairarapa, occurred after the balloon became entangled in power lines and burst into flames.

It was New Zealand's worst air disaster in decades. No one on board survived.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission said post-mortem tests had found an active ingredient of cannabis in Mr Hopping's blood, which indicated that he was a long-term user of cannabis.

Based on eyewitness testimony and the tests, "it was [also] highly likely that the pilot smoked cannabis on the morning of the flight," the report said.

"Poor judgement and poor decision-making were factors contributing to this accident," the commission said.

"The commission found that the pilot's use of cannabis could not be excluded as a factor contributing to his errors of judgement, and therefore to the accident."

It recommended the government introduce legislation to prescribe maximum levels for alcohol and introduce random testing for drugs and alcohol in transport operators, including "persons operating an aircraft or a marine craft for recreational purposes".

The report also said that Mr Hopping's decision to allow the balloon to fly below the level of the power lines was unsafe.

"Power lines are a well recognised critical hazard to hot-air balloon operations. Balloon pilots should give them a wide margin," it said.

Over the last 10 years, there had been six cases where crew members had taken drugs ahead of a transport accident, the report said.

In 2010, nine people died when a plane of skydivers crashed after taking off from the Fox Glacier aerodrome. Tests indicated that one of the tandem masters on board had consumed cannabis shortly before the accident.

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