Lifestyle & Belief

Pilot of hor air balloon that crashed in NZ, killing 11, affected by cannabis: report


A Police vehicle drives through the cordon heading to the accident site on January 7, 2012 in Carterton, New Zealand. Emergency services attended a hot air balloon crash that has killed 11 people in the early hours of Saturday near the Wairarapa plains town of Carterton. The balloon burst into flames and crashed killing all aboard.


Marty Melville

An investigation into a hot-air balloon crash in New Zealand that killed 11 in January found the pilot had cannabis in his system, according to reports.

The findings of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, based on a toxicology report, have not yet linked cannabis use to the accident the crash at Carterton, Bloomberg reported, but it did say the test results were “concerning.” 

A report issued by the commission also includes a detailed description of the horrifying events leading up to the balloon striking powerlines, causing the basket to catch fire.

It describes how pilot Lance Hopping, 53, knew the balloon was heading for powerlines, yelling "duck down" to passengers before impact, according to

Passengers tried to push away from the powerlines.

"As the balloon was trying to rise, it also began to slide along the powerlines towards Somerset Road," the report notes.

"About 15 to 30 seconds after contacting the the wires, an electrical arcing occurred.

"A fire erupted shortly afterwards low down on the basket.

"Two of the passengers jumped from the burning basket and shortly after that the power line lying across the top of the basket broke and the balloon then ascended rapidly."

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who is also tourism minister, said adventure tour operators should never smoke drugs or drink alcohol before taking customers on rides.

"In my view it is totally unacceptable to have people offering adventure tourism and having significant drug(s) and alcohol in their system," AFP quoted him as saying.

More from GlobalPost: Hot air balloon crash kills 11 in New Zealand

The victims of the tragedy including Hopping, four couples and two women who were cousins, all from New Zealand.

Aurea Hickland, a witness who saw the accident happen as she was having breakfast, was quoted by the New Zealand Herald as saying: 

"It was terrible. I said to my husband 'Oh no the basket's on fire, the basket's on fire'. We saw the two people jump and I said to Neil, 'They won't survive,' it was just awful.

"It shot up in the air, and everyone was screaming - the screaming was just terrible - and then when the canopy went up in flames it just dropped."

A day before the ballooning report came out, a report into a fatal skydiving plane crash in 2010 noted cannabis was detected in two of the skydive masters. 

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