Final report due on balloon tragedy

By Nathan Crombie -
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Emergency crews at the site of the hot air balloon disaster in Somerset Road in Carterton that claimed 11 lives on January 7 last year.
Emergency crews at the site of the hot air balloon disaster in Somerset Road in Carterton that claimed 11 lives on January 7 last year.

The final report will be released tomorrow into the hot-air balloon crash near Carterton that killed 11 people.

The balloon struck powerlines in the early morning of January 7 last year, bursting into flames and crashing to the ground in a Somerset Rd paddock north of Carterton. Pilot Lance Hopping and all 10 passengers were killed.

The final report from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission will be published at midday tomorrow and comes after the commission released an interim report into the tragedy in May last year.

It found the balloon had descended to within 5m of the ground in preparation to land, before it was caught by a gust of wind and veered toward nearby powerlines.

The craft became entangled in the powerlines and two passengers leapt to their deaths from the burning basket before the balloon plummeted to the ground.

The interim report also revealed traces of cannabis had been found in the blood of pilot Lance Hopping, which while being a "significant safety concern" was unlikely to have caused the crash.

Media were told investigators would look at seven major lines of inquiry following the interim report, including whether a malfunction contributed to the crash, balloon and pilot performance, and the effects of substances on pilot performance.

The investigation also was focused on the certification and registration of balloons, the maintenance and continuing airworthiness of balloons, and a review of wire strikes and in-flight fires involving balloons.

Chief Commissioner John Marshall QC and investigator-in-charge Ian McClelland will tomorrow speak at a press conference on the findings.

Commission inquiries can determine causes and make recommendations to improve transport safety.

The crash was the deadliest involving a New Zealand aircraft since the 1979 crash of Air New Zealand Flight 901 into Mount Erebus, and was the third-worst hot-air balloon tragedy on record.

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