Carterton tragedy: Pilot's colleague speaks

A tribute in Carrington Park, Carterton for the victims of the fatal crash. Photo / APN
A tribute in Carrington Park, Carterton for the victims of the fatal crash. Photo / APN

A woman who worked with the pilot involved in the Carterton balloon crash admitted today if she had known of his drug use she would have questioned his ability to operate the balloon.

Sally Livingston was the first person to give evidence today to Coroner Peter Ryan, in the resumed inquest into the death of 11 people in January 2012, after a balloon crashed into power lines and caught on fire.

As the inquest continued today, Mrs Livingston told the coroner she believed balloon pilot Lance Hopping, and his company Ballooning New Zealand, were the operators at the time of the crash.

Mrs Livingston and her husband Andrew are both shareholders in the Early Morning Balloons company, and had hired Mr Hopping as a contractor 15 years prior to the devastating accident.

"I believe Ballooning New Zealand was contracted as the operator," she said.

Mr Hopping arranged all the flights, collected the money and reported back to Early Morning Balloons, which are procedures carried out by the operator, Mrs Livingston said.

The balloon involved in the crash was supplied by Early Morning Balloons.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has already established that pilot errors were ultimately responsible for the crash. At the time, Mr Hopping had cannabis in his system.

Mrs Livingston said Mr Hopping did not show any unprofessional attributes, and she and her husband were quite satisfied at the time that he was providing a professional service.

"He always appeared to us as professional and experienced," she said.

Mrs Livingston said she was unaware of Mr Hopping's drug use, but had she been, it would have been a basis for concern.

At the time the balloon went down Mr Hopping's medical certificate had lapsed.

Mr Livingston also took the stand today, and told the inquest they should have ensured Mr Hopping had a current medical certificate.

Lawyer Alastair Sherriff, who is appearing on behalf of some family members of victims, said a medical certificate was key and assured the pilot was not a hazard to passengers.

It allowed everyone who flew as a passenger in New Zealand to be sure the pilot was fit to exercise the commitments of a commercial pilot's licence, Mr Sherriff said.

"The biggest hazard is the pilot's competence, or incompetence," he said.

The inquest, at Wellington District Court, continues.

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 28 Dec 2014 08:46:26 Processing Time: 363ms