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New Zealand hot air balloon crash, 11 dead

 Police cordon off the area after a hot air balloon caught fire and the ten passengers and pilot were killed, in Carterton, New Zealand, Saturday, Jan...
 This aerial photo shows the area where a hot air balloon crashed after it caught on fire in Carterton, north of the capital, Wellington, New Zealand,...
 Three people grieve for their loved ones lost in a hot air balloon crash in Carterton, 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital Wellington, New...

New Zealand Balloon Crash

Police cordon off the area after a hot air balloon caught fire and the ten passengers and pilot were killed, in Carterton, New Zealand, Saturday, Jan...

New Zealand Balloon Crash

This aerial photo shows the area where a hot air balloon crashed after it caught on fire in Carterton, north of the capital, Wellington, New Zealand,...

New Zealand Balloon Crash

Three people grieve for their loved ones lost in a hot air balloon crash in Carterton, 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital Wellington, New...

A hot air balloon carrying 11 people turned into a tower of "sheer flame" Saturday after hitting power lines in a rural area of New Zealand, killing everyone aboard and horrifying residents.

"It's a tragedy as bad as tragedies get," local police commander Brent Register said.

It was New Zealand's deadliest air accident in nearly 50 years. Two of those killed jumped out of the basket in desperation before the fiery balloon hit the ground with a loud bang. It crashed into farmland near the township of Carterton, a region well known for its hot air ballooning.

The pilot and five couples were killed. Some of the bodies were badly burned, said Superintendent Mike Rusbatch, a police district commander in Wellington, the capital. The early morning weather was clear and bright with minimal wind.

Rusbatch said it appeared the balloon's basket struck power lines that ignited a fire on board. Witnesses told local media they saw 32-foot (10-meter) high flames rising from the basket.

'10m of flames'

Eyewitness Bevan Lambess, who was driving by, told Reuters news agency: "The wicker basket was on fire and I saw something holding it down - it looked like ropes but I got closer and it was actually the top (electric) power line that was holding the basket down.

"It probably still would have been 15m in the air. I slowed down and then the whole basket started to go up in flames."

A police commander, Mike Rusbatch, said two people appeared to have jumped from the basket of the balloon as it came down.

Another witness, David McKinley, told the state broadcaster TVNZ he noticed part of the basket was on fire when it passed over his garden.

"It was just above the trees when I first saw it. It looked like he tried to raise it a bit higher. All of a sudden there was just 10m of flames.

"It was like a rocket coming down," he said.

The incident occurred in bright, clear conditions with little wind.

He was considered an experienced and safety-conscious pilot who acted as safety officer for the Balloons over Wairarapa annual event - with organiser Jonathan Hooker quoted as saying he had more than 10,000 hours of commercial ballooning experience.

The incident is New Zealand's worst air disaster since 1979, when an Air New Zealand sightseeing flight crashed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 passengers on board.

The only victim publicly identified so far is the pilot and balloon owner, Lance Hopping. He was safety officer for the Balloons over Wairarapa annual event, and was considered an experienced and safety-conscious pilot.

New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission opened an immediate inquiry. Investigating officer Peter Williams said investigators had looked at the crash site but had yet to begin witness interviews. The investigation could take up to a year, he said.

The crash was the deadliest air disaster in New Zealand since 1963, when a DC-3 airliner crashed in the Kaimai Range, killing all 23 passengers and crew aboard, according to the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

In 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 airliner on a scenic flight slammed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 people on board.




Updated : 2021-07-25 04:42 GMT+08:00