Blood on authority's hands over balloon crash

DUNCAN GARNER
Last updated 05:00 02/08/2014

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OPINION: Why does the truth take so long to get out? I've always believed there's a culture of cover-up and spin across our government departments and agencies.

Most of them never want to face the truth, let alone come near to telling it. Rarely are they held to account.

Take this week's appalling revelations about the Civil Aviation Authority and the Carterton balloon crash in 2012.

This agency has been caught out withholding information and - worse still - shown to have been grossly negligent.

The truth is those people should never have died in the balloon crash on January 7, 2012.

This was no accident, this horrific crash was entirely avoidable.

I believe that if the CAA had done their job properly 11 people would still be alive today.

Evidence presented to this week's inquest was harrowing and confirms pilot Lance Hopping should never have been in the sky.

Yes, he had cannabis in his system, but he should never have even had his commercial balloon licence.

Equally unsettling, it's only because of the inquest - and some digging by the poor grieving families - that we're now getting some answers.

The CAA had been told two years before the crash that Hopping had on more than one occasion been too affected by alcohol or cannabis to fly, forcing flights to be suspended.

It had also been told that Hopping had cheated on pilot exams and impersonated a CAA official. The authority was aware of this since 2010.

In one incident, within the previous two years, an onboard crew person allegedly had to take over the balloon controls because an impaired Hopping was incapable of landing.

It gets worse - the CAA, which is tasked with looking into the allegations, decided the information was "insufficiently reliable" to justify talking to Hopping.

I believe the CAA has blood on their hands - and they should be prosecuted for what can only be deemed gross negligence. Someone should be held to account and compensation should be paid to hurt and grieving families.

This saga is the latest chapter in a sad series of government agencies not being held to account. It's happened for too long.

The Department of Labour had years of warning over issues at Pike River mine and did nothing. Similarly, the CAA knew of indications Hopping wasn't fit to fly - and looked the other way.

They must be held to account. Of course Hopping is ultimately to blame, but the CAA must take responsibility too: it had several chances to stop him from flying.

Go back to 2004 and a medical certificate pointed to Hopping's "binge drinking". A note was made that he should drink more moderately.

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The warning bells were loud and clear.

The CAA seemed more concerned that a tougher regime could put some balloonists out of business. They did nothing.

Their website states "we check that rules are being complied with and have the power to take action if they are not".

It continues, "we monitor safety and security performance throughout the aviation community so that we can direct our safety efforts where they are needed most". Well actions speak far louder than words.

The CAA should be publicly apologising and pleading guilty to a raft of negligence charges.

The authority had the chance to stop Hopping flying years ago. But because it did nothing, Hopping no doubt felt bullet-proof. He got away with it and took 10 other people to their deaths.

Wouldn't it be nice to see some long overdue accountability? I won't be holding my breath. PARLIAMENT has risen and Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia has retired.

When she arrived at Parliament in 1996 she was a radical and an activist.

Her dislike of Pakeha and the system was obvious. But she grew and matured to become an enormously constructive politician. In fact, of all the MPs I've associated with over 20 years I regard her as the most principled.

She was overwhelmed and in tears when she walked on to Parliament's forecourt in 2004 to see 20,000 people cheering her on as she split from Labour over the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. In my view her Maori Party won't survive for long without her guiding hand at the wheel.

But she deserves a decent break. And her husband, George and their 26 mokopuna deserve more time with her.

- The Dominion Post

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