17 May 2014

Daughter blames Civil Aviation

6:12 am on 17 May 2014

The daughter of one of the victims of the Carterton balloon disaster in January 2012 says the Civil Aviation Authority and the company which allowed the pilot to fly illegally should take some of the blame.

Sarah Scarlett, whose father Howard Cox died in the crash with his wife Diana, told the coroner's inquest in Wellington on Friday the company which leased the balloon to the pilot Lance Hopping failed to check he was legally able to fly.

She said lax regulation allowed the crash to happen.

Ms Scarlett said she would like to forgive those involved but she was not yet ready.

Vivian Still, whose 19-year-old daughter Alexis jumped to her death with her boyfriend Johannes (Chrisjan) Jordann, told the inquest in Wellington on Friday that if Alexis or Chrisjan had known pilot Lance Hopping did not have a medical certificate or took cannabis, they would have never got in the balloon.

The family wanted drug and alcohol testing for pilots and ground crew, for ground crew to have current first aid training and for passengers to be instructed how to use fire extinguishers and emergency deflation equipment.

And a lawyer for some of the families, Alastair Sherriff, said they wanted stricter controls on drug and alcohol use by pilots and ground crew, including mandatory testing.

Mr Sherriff said several other countries had random and post accident testing and what the families were seeking was not too much to ask.

But the Government said it would be difficult to administer.

Prime Minister John Key, who is also Tourism Minister, said it would be hard to run random drug testing in a small tourism operation, where there were just one or two people employed.

He expected those in the adventure tourism industry to be drug-free.

Mr Key suggested further steps would be taken if those companies failed to show they were properly administering that policy.

Oversight has changed - CAA

And the Civil Aviation Authority defended itself against criticism that it was not doing enough to cut drug and alcohol use in the adventure tourism industry.

In a written statement, the director of Civil Aviation Graeme Harris said the authority supported the recommendations by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, including tougher rules on alcohol and drug use.

He said the oversight of commercial balloon operations had changed considerably since the time of the accident and measures to address some of the families' concerns were already in place.

The owner of Ballooning Canterbury, Michael Oakley, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Friday that when he set up the business after the Carterton crash, he was told he had to include drug testing.

Chief pilot and owner of the Kiwi Balloon company, Mark Brown, said drug tests are already standard practice.

Eleven people died in the crash in January 2012 near Carterton after the balloon snagged on power lines and caught fire.

Coroner Peter Ryan is hearing the inquest, which claimed the lives of pilot Lance Hopping, 53, of Masterton; Howard Cox, 71, and Diana Cox, 63, of Wellington; Desmond Dean, 70, and Ann Dean, 65, of Masterton; cousins Valerie Bennett, 70, of Masterton, and Denise Dellabarca, 58, of Paraparaumu; partners Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter, 49 of Lower Hutt; and young Wellington couple Johannes (Chrisjan) Jordann, 21, and Alexis Still, 19.

TAIC 'cover-up' says balloon witness

A crew member who witnessed the balloon tragedy is accusing authorities of publicly criticising the pilot in an attempt to cover up their own shortcomings.

Max Sedcole was giving evidence on Thursday at a hearing in the Wellington Coroner's Court.

He read from an email he sent to the Coroner, outlining trips he and the Mr Hopping made to Hawke's Bay so the balloons could be checked by an authorised technician.

Mr Sedcole said the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) report into the crash made insinuations about the pilot, before they found out it was their inspector who was at fault.

"In actual fact the technician that examined the balloons did not examine them to TAIC rules and regulations," he told the inquest.

He said suggesting Mr Hopping was the person at fault and that he didn't keep up with his maintenance programme was a red herring as was TAIC's reference to Mr Hopping's cannabis use.