Government has not asked CAA about random drug testing

CALEB HARRIS
Last updated 13:56 30/07/2014

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Two and a half years after the Carterton balloon crash the Government has not asked the CAA for its view on in random drug testing, an inquest has been told.

The admission came during the inquest in Wellington into the fatal hot-air balloon flight that hit power lines and crashed in Carterton on January 7, 2012, killing all 11 on board.

The dead were pilot Lance Hopping and his passengers Ann Dean, 65, Desmond Dean, 70, Valerie Bennett, 70, Diana Cox, 63, Howard Cox, 71, Denise Dellabarca, 58, Belinda Harter, 49, Stephen Hopkirk, 50, Johannes "Chrisjan" Jordaan, 21, and Alexis Still, 19.

Cannabis was found in Hopping's system and witnesses have said he was a weekly user of the drug. Pilot error was found to be the major factor in the crash.

Lawyer Alastair Sherriff, acting on behalf of some of the victims' families, continued his questioning of senior Civil Aviation Authority manager Chris Ford, asking about the agency's stance on random drug testing of commercial balloon pilots.

Ballooning companies test their own pilots but the effectiveness of the practice has been questioned during the inquest, especially in "one-man-band" operations where the company director is also the pilot.

Ford said the CAA had long promoted the need for "more effective tools" around controlling drug and alcohol use by pilots but the issue was the subject of a Ministry of Transport review. As a matter for government policy it would not be appropriate for the CAA to hold a formal view, Ford said.

He could not comment on why a report asked for by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee had "not yet materialised", other than to say the CAA had not yet been formally asked by the ministry for its position on the matter.

Families of the victims have indicated they want Coroner Peter Ryan to recommend the CAA begin carrying out random drug and alcohol testing of balloon pilots, among other recommendations.

Sherriff said drug and alcohol testing by transport industry regulators was the practice in other countries such as Australia and had been shown to be effective.

Ford agreed with his suggestion that the county's four CAA-certified commercial ballooning operators and 13 certified commercial balloon pilots, were open to the CAA taking the lead on "random, unannounced, anytime-anywhere" drug and alcohol testing.

Sherriff also asked Ford about other ways to improve monitoring and surveillance of safety in the adventure aviation industry, such as "mystery shopper" type visits and enforcing passenger training in the use of emergency devices such as rapid deflation mechanisms, during safety briefings by pilots.

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Earlier, the court registrar asked members of the public in the gallery, most of whom are family members of victims of the crash, to stay silent during the inquest. She said "cursing and swearing" had been heard during yesterday's session.

The inquest ran for five days in May before being adjourned and resuming on Monday. It continues this afternoon.

- The Dominion Post

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