Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hot Air Balloon Crashed - Killed 11 Person

Hot Air Balloon Crashed - Killed 11 Person

The scorched grass around the crash scene signals New Zealand's worst aviation disaster in 32 years.

Five couples are dead along with their pilot, Lance Hopping, after today’s hot air balloon tragedy in Carterton.

Watch aerial footage of balloon crash site Witness describes flames 'shooting towards ground' Balloon operator amongst region's most experienced. The balloon hit wires on a powerline, after which the basket caught fire and shot up higher into the air.

From his garden David McKinlay watched in horror.

“The flames, the flames...I knew it was out of control, the flames were just licking up the side of the basket. They were right up into the guy ropes and getting close to the bottom of the balloon itself. I just dropped the hose and ran inside - I knew there was a problem."

Two people jumped two hundred metres from the balloon, and nine stayed on board, but Mr McKinlay knew no one would survive.

“It hit the ground at a terrible speed I would imagine. I could just vaguely hear screams,” he says.
Bevan Lambess saw the balloon's basket trapped and on fire underneath the power lines.

“The balloon had pulled the power line up so it was probably three power pylons high and the power line was stuck on top of the basket. It must have burnt through and released the balloon skywards. The whole basket was in a ball of flames,” says Mr Lambess.

Before it fell he says he saw people alive inside the basket.

I could see a couple of people, I didn't realise how many there were, but it was too high to jump - there was no hope.

Six different agencies, including Civil Aviation, are investigating the crash, which happened in near perfect flying conditions.

Throughout the day family and friends have visited the cordoned off crash site and it is understood some had been following the balloon and saw the tragedy unfold.

The victims were five couples from the Greater Wellington area.

The company believed to be operator of the balloon in which eleven people died on Saturday is one of the most experienced operators in the region.

Police are yet to name the balloon operator, or the pilot, but various media reports have named the operator as Ballooning New Zealand Ltd, which is owned by Lance Robert Hopping, one of the most experienced operators of balloons in the region.

The company operates Mr Big, ZK-XXF, a Cameron 210, which can carry 10 passengers and a pilot, according to the Balloons Over Wairarapa website.

Mr Hopping gained his hot air balloon licence in 1995.

"Lance owns and operates Ballooning New Zealand Ltd, and has over 1000 hours commercial ballooning experience," the Balloons Over Wairarapa website says.

The annual festival is due to take place from March 8 to March 11.

Local resident David McKinlay, who witnessed the crash, told NZ Newswire he believed he knew which company was involved but he declined to name it.

"If it is who I think it is, it will affect the town because he is a local man who has run the business for years. So it is going to be quite sad and it is going to be a terrible thing for Carterton," he said.

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