The Transport Accident Investigation Commission says its continuing inquiry into January’s hot air balloon tragedy near Carterton in which 11 people died is complex and potentially far reaching, and it would be wrong to draw premature conclusions based on the facts contained in an interim report released today (10am, Thursday, 10 May 2012).
The interim report gives particulars of the balloon and pilot, outlines the inquiry process to date, describes the preparation and conduct of the accident flight, recaps on an urgent safety recommendation previously issued relating to maintenance practices, and sets out the further lines of inquiry.
Investigator in charge Ian McClelland says the inquiry has benefited significantly from ground and balloon-based photography of the flight, and a large number of eye witnesses. The report contains diagrams depicting the flight, which may be further refined if data can be recovered from the balloon’s badly damaged GPS found in the wreckage. Valuable weather data had been obtained from nearby vineyards’ weather stations.
Toxicology tests from the pilot had returned a positive result for cannabis, and further inquiry and analysis related to this issue was underway. Mr McClelland says, as with the maintenance issues identified early in the inquiry, the Commission had not yet made any findings linking cannabis use to the accident “although the test results are concerning to the Commission”.
(In the final report of an inquiry into a different accident released yesterday the Commission recommended to the Secretary for Transport that he “promotes the introduction of a drug and alcohol detection and deterrence regime for persons employed in safety critical transport roles”. The recommendation was accepted.)
There are seven main lines of inquiry being pursued in the Carterton accident inquiry, but others could emerge. The current lines of inquiry are:
- The certification and registration of balloons
- The maintenance and continuing airworthiness of balloons
- Whether any malfunction contributed to the accident
- Balloon and pilot performance
- The use of performance impairing substances and their effects on pilot performance
- The regulatory framework and oversight of ballooning in New Zealand
- Review of wire strikes and inflight fires involving balloons in New Zealand and elsewhere
Mr McClelland confirmed that commercial hot air ballooning operations had, from 1 May 2012, been required to meet new certification requirements with the introduction of a new civil aviation rule covering adventure aviation activities.
The Commission hopes to complete its inquiry by March 2013, but that would depend on how the inquiry continued to develop. The final report will contain any further facts established, analysis, findings, key lessons, and any recommendations for change to help prevent a recurrence.
Download interim report (.pdf)