Crash pilot a 'social' cannabis user

By Teuila Fuatai of APNZ

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Flowers and messages left on Somerset Road near the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash.
Flowers and messages left on Somerset Road near the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash.

The pilot of a hot air balloon which crashed, killing all 11 aboard, was "very safety conscious" and would not have smoked cannabis on the morning of the fatal flight, an inquest has been told.

Pilot Lance Hopping, 53, was killed along with the 10 passengers on the balloon trip over Carterton in January 2012.

A coroner's inquest into the deaths is in its second day in Wellington.

A crash investigation by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission has already established errors in judgement made by Mr Hopping ultimately caused the balloon's demise.

It also found he had cannabis in his system at the time of the accident, and impairment from the drug was unable to be ruled out as being a factor in Mr Hopping's decision-making that day.

When the accident occurred, Mr Hopping had flown the balloon over a paddock bordered by power lines on two sides. It struck lines on one the edge of the paddock, caught fire and crashed into the ground.

This morning, Carterton man Bruce Miller spoke out in support of Mr Hopping at the inquest.

"I've been a long-time friend of Lance Hopping. I use to call him Hoppy," he told the inquest.

"I know him very well, we use to do a lot of things together on a social level."

"He did not smoke cigarettes and he did not smoke pot before flying."

The pair would often take motorbike trips together.

"I know him to be very responsible and safety conscious in general when it came down to flying and ballooning. In all those years, I've never seen Hoppy use large amounts of alcohol or drugs," Mr Miller said.

When asked by Coroner Peter Ryan about the frequency of Mr Hopping's cannabis use, Mr Miller classed him as a weekly user.

He said he "knew Hoppy used cannabis on a social level".

" ... he would not have any alcohol or drugs if he had to ride a bike the next day or fly a balloon.

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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