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article imagePilot in fatal balloon crash had cannabis in system

By Yukio Strachan     May 9, 2012 in World
A toxicology test has revealed the pilot of the balloon that crashed, killing 11 people in New Zealand, may have been high –– literally.
A Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) interim report, released Thursday morning found pilot Lance Hopping had cannabis in his system at the time of the accident, NZ Herald is reporting.
According to New Zealand's 3 News, Hopping's body was tested four days after the accident.
Hopping, 53, of Masterton, and 10 passengers died when the balloon hit power lines and caught fire before plummeting to the ground near Carterton on 7 January.
There were no survivors.
According to Radio New Zealand, lead investigator Ian McClelland said the commission is not ready to make any assumptions that link cannabis use to the accident, but added " test results are concerning to the commission''.
A full report including analysis, findings, key lessons and recommendations is due next March.
The report does however paint a chilling picture of what happened on the day of the crash, stating Hopping yelled for passengers to duck down in the basket when the balloon came close to the power lines.
Some passengers tried pushing the wires away from the basket as it was sliding along them. An electrical arching occurred and part of the lower basket ignited, 3 News says.
Two passengers leapt to their deaths from the burning basket before one of the powerlines snapped sending the balloon upwards quickly.
Once it had risen to a height of around 150 metres, the balloon’s envelope burst, sending the basket plummeting to the ground, killing the remaining nine people onboard.
The families of the victims, who have been briefed on the interim report, have asked for privacy from the media.
NZ Herald list the Masterton locals killed in the crash were Hopping,53, Valerie Bennett, 70, and husband and wife Desmond and Ann Dean, aged 70 and 65.
The victims from the Wellington region were Ms Bennett's cousin Denise Dellabarca, 58; husband and wife Howard and Diana Cox, aged 71 and 63; Lower Hutt couple Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter, 49; and young Wellington couple Chrisjan Jordann, 21, and Alexis Still, 19.
More about Lance Hopping, Hot air balloon, Transport Accident Investigation Commission, Cannabis, Marijuana
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