New Zealand balloon crash pilot 'a regular drug user'

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Friends and family of those killed visit the Police cordon near to the accident site on January 7, 2012 in Carterton, New ZealandImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Eleven people died after the hot air balloon hit power lines in January 2012

A hot air balloon pilot who crashed, killing 11 people, was a "chronic cannabis user" and probably under the influence of drugs during the flight, an inquest has heard.

The balloon caught fire after hitting power lines east of Wellington, New Zealand, in January 2012.

All those on board died.

The inquest was told that cannabis use may have led to what the coroner called pilot Lance Hopping's "inexplicable actions".

The crash happened in the town of Carterton, in the Wairarapa region, while Mr Hopping was piloting 10 passengers, all from New Zealand.

Many of the victims' families were waiting for them near the crash scene and saw the accident happen.

The inquest in Carterton heard Mr Hopping landed in a field with two major power lines, which coroner Peter Ryan said was an "inherently dangerous environment".

Media caption,

Many of the victims' families saw the accident happen - archive report

A gust of wind pushed the balloon towards the cables, and Mr Hopping responded by trying to lift it over the top of the power lines, instead of landing.

Mr Ryan said: "It is possible that his judgement and decision-making ability were impaired due to the carry-over effect of having smoked cannabis.

"The likelihood of this scenario is strengthened by the fact that Mr Hopping made a gross error in attempting to out-climb the power line."

The inquest also heard Mr Hopping should not have been working, as his pilot's licence had expired six weeks earlier.

Mr Ryan said balloon operators should face random drug tests in future, and that tour companies should consider employing a second pilot in case the first is incapacitated.

Mr Hopping's family has not responded to the findings.