Balloon crash inquest under way

04:42, May 12 2014
Coroner Peter Ryan

Family members saw a flash of light and a crack as the basket of a hot air balloon hit 33,000 volt power lines and began to burn, the daughter of two of the victims has told an inquest.

The four day Coroner's inquest began today into the deaths of the pilot and 10 passengers of the hot air balloon which crashed into a paddock near the town of Carterton about 7.30am on January 7 2012.

Valerie Zillah Bennett, 70, Diana Madge Cox, 63,  Howard Cox, 71, Ann Lynette Dean, 70, Desmond Athol Dean, 65, Denise Dellabarca, 58, Belinda Elisabeth Harter, 49, Stephen Robert Hopkirk, 50, Johannes Christoffel Jordaan known as Chrisjan, 21, and Alexis Victoria Still, 19, all died in the crash.

The pilot was Lance Robert Hopping, 53. He was found to have levels of THC - an active ingredient in cannabis - of two micrograms per litre of blood.

Police later found he had been a long term user of cannabis.

The daughter of Ann and Desmond Dean, Bronwyn Brewster went with her daughter Aimee to the Paua Shell Factory on the morning of the balloon ride to watch them take off.


She said Hopping talked about flight procedures and where they were going.  She remembered seeing Hopping smoking but did not know what he was smoking.

Brewster said she followed the balloon with the ground crew after it took off.  There was little wind and the balloon was not moving much.

When they got to Somerset Road they thought the balloon was going to land.

Brewster said she saw the basket hit the powerlines,

"There was a flash of light then a crack," she said.

The power cable got caught up on the basket and she could see the basket burning.

She said she saw someone come out of the basket and thought it was a girl with blonde hair.

"I watched in disbelief as it started burning,"

She described screaming and yelling as the basket and balloon burned then plummet to the ground.

Detective Inspector Sean Hansen began giving evidence today in the four-day inquest into the deaths of the pilot and passengers of the hot air balloon. 

Hansen said the fire began in the balloon's basket after it hit 33,000-volt power lines. After the fuel cylinder ruptured, he said Alexis Still and Chrisjan Jordaan jumped from about 20 metres off the ground, dying from their injuries.

The balloon then rose, to about 110 to 150 metres from the ground, before the envelope caught fire and it fell to the ground.

Hansen said the balloon had undergone a test for airworthiness but it was later found the test for the envelope was wrongly done.

Hopping's last medical certificate had expired on November 25 the year before and he had not made an appointment for another.

He had filled in forms that said he did not use illegal substances. He was not known to have any medical conditions.

Hopping was rated to fly balloons and helicopters, with over 1060 hours of balloon flights.

He had a previous brush with powerlines during a balloon air show and had discussed with others deflating the balloon if it happened again.

Coroner Peter Ryan began the inquest by addressing the families gathered, saying he would not be going over the factual evidence that was outlined in the TAIC reports which he accepted as the basic factual background.

He told the families he had been at the scene the day after the crash and seen for himself the tragedy and the international protocols being undertaken to identify the victims.

He said he was satisfied with the standards of the identification which was greater than that required by the coronial process.

Coroner Ryan said the crash was unsurvivable and every one of the victims had died as a result of the crash or the injuries they received in the case of the two passengers that jumped shortly before the crash.

He told the families that the inquest was not seeking to lay blame or to confirm criminal or civil liability but to seek to see how such a tragedy could be prevented from happening again.

The Dominion Post