Passengers' final seconds of terror

20:47, May 10 2012
Belinda Harter and Stephen Hopkirk
Belinda Harter, 49 and Stephen Hopkirk, 50, of Lower Hutt.
Diana Cox
Diana Cox, 63, of Wellington, died along with her husband, Howard.
Howard Cox gallery
Howard Cox, 71, of Wellington, died along with his wife, Diana.
Alexis Still and Chrisjan Jordaan gallery
Alexis Still, 19, of Wellington, and Chrisjan Jordaan, 21.
Lance Robert Hopping, 50, was to marry long-time partner Nina Jane Kelynack at Easter weekend.
Lance Hopping, 50, was the pilot of the balloon. He was due to marry long-time partner Nina Kelynack at Easter Weekend.
Denise Dellabarca
Denise Dellabarca, 58, of Paraparaumu.
Lance Hopping
Lance Hopping

Lance Hopping's terrified balloon passengers struggled desperately to push themselves away from overhead powerlines as the balloon's basket slid beneath them and caught fire.

Two passengers leapt from the burning basket before one of the powerlines, lying across the top of it, broke. The balloon shot 150 metres into the air, then collapsed in flames, an interim report into the January 7 crash in Carterton reveals.

All 11 people on the flight, including pilot Mr Hopping and the two who jumped, were killed.

Carterton hot air balloon crash
Friends and family members at the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash on Somerset Rd in Carterton.
Carterton hot air balloon crash
Emergency services at the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash on Somerset Rd in Carterton.
Carterton hot air balloon crash
Emergency services at the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash on Somerset Rd in Carterton.
Carterton hot air balloon crash
Friends and family members at the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash on Somerset Rd in Carterton.
Carterton hot air balloon crash
Friends and family members at the scene of the fatal hot air balloon crash on Somerset Rd in Carterton.
Lance Hopping
Lance Hopping, who was flying the balloon when it crashed.
Balloon Bevan Lambess
Bevan Lambess, witness to the horror crash.
Balloon Bevan Lambess
The scene of the crash from the air.
Balloon police gallery
Police talk to media at the scene of a horrific balloon crash near Carterton. From left to right: Wellington District commander Superintendent Mike Rusbatch and Wairarapa area commander Inspector Brent Register.
Balloon police gallery
The site of the crash being photographed from a fire.
Balloon Scene Forensic
The scene of the fatal balloon accident in Somerset Rd, Carterton.
Balloon grieving
Relatives at the scene of the fatal Carterton air balloon crash.
Balloon grieving
A woman places flowers at the scene of the fatal Carterton air balloon crash.
Balloon grieving
Nurses Jacqui O'Connor and Annette Tempest were among the first on the scene of the fatal hot air balloon disaster on Somerset Rd in Carterton, Wairarapa.
Balloon Crash
A man talks to police officers at the scene of the fatal balloon crash in Carterton.
Balloon Crash
People leave the scene of the hot air balloon crash, near Carterton.
Deputy chief investigator for TAIC (Transport Accident Investigation Commission) Peter Williams, left, Police Area commander Inspector Brent Register, and Nathan Guy at Saturday's press conference regarding the fatal balloon accident near Carterton.
Deputy chief investigator for TAIC (Transport Accident Investigation Commission) Peter Williams, left, Police Area commander Inspector Brent Register, and Nathan Guy at Saturday's press conference regarding the fatal balloon accident near Carterton.
Ron Mark
Carterton mayor Ron Mark at Saturday's press conference.
Flowers being placed on Somerset Road near the site of the fatal balloon crash.
Flowers being placed on Somerset Road near the site of the fatal hot air balloon crash.
An onlooker took this photo moments before the fatal crash near Carterton.
An onlooker took this photo only moments before the fatal crash near Carterton.
Lance Robert Hopping, 50, was to marry long-time partner Nina Jane Kelynack at Easter weekend.
Lance Robert Hopping, 50, was to marry long-time partner Nina Jane Kelynack at Easter weekend.
Grief Carterton balloon crash
Friends and family at the scene of Saturday's hot air balloon tragedy at Carterton.
Balloon accident victim Alexis Still.
Alexis Still.
Balloon scene
Police at the scene of the balloon crash which killed 11 people.
Balloon scene two
Two of the three tents covering the area where the balloon crashed.
Wairarapa Area Commander Brent Register talks to media.
Wairarapa Area Commander Brent Register talks to media during a briefing on investigations into the fatal balloon crash.
TAIC communications manager Peter Northcote.
TAIC communications manager Peter Northcote.
Parents of crash vitim Alexis Still, Allan and Vivienne Still with her two older siblings Ben, 22, and Emma-Jane, 24.
Parents of crash vitim Alexis Still, Allan and Vivienne Still with her two older siblings Ben, 22, and Emma-Jane, 24.
Balloon basket
A TAIC picture points to where the fuel supply later burst.
balloon tragedy graphic
The path of the balloon and the place where it crashed.

The report, by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, also reveals that blood and urine taken from Mr Hopping's body four days after the crash tested positive for cannabis.

It does not disclose what level of cannabis was found, or whether it contributed to the crash.

The balloon skirted powerlines for up to seven horrifying minutes before becoming caught under the wires, at times travelling as low as 5 metres above the ground.

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After taking off at 6.38am, the balloon ascended to 450 metres and drifted slowly southeast before moving back to the north.

While the ground crew parked up just north of Carterton to wait, the balloon continued to slowly travel north then east for the next 30 minutes.

As it prepared to land, the balloon descended to within 5m of the ground, near buildings and paddock sprinklers, as relatives of some of the victims reported noticing an "isolated gust of wind".

The balloon then veered sharply toward the lines, and Mr Hopping was heard yelling "Duck down" to passengers before the balloon rose into the wires and became stuck.

By this stage, it had been travelling parallel to the powerlines for up to 7 minutes, TAIC investigator in charge Ian McClelland said.

As passengers tried to push away and the basket slid beneath the lines, electrical arcing occurred, igniting the lower basket.

Balloon Aviation Association president Martyn Stacey said after the release of the report that flying near powerlines was discouraged. "My personal view is that powerlines frighten the hell out of me ... but clearly Lance had seen them and knew where they were."

The question remained why Mr Hopping did not use his balloon's emergency deflation device, he said. "I would like to think I would have pulled out way before then, but obviously he didn't make that decision and something has suddenly happened."

The report contains no analysis of the crash facts, nor any recommendations. Those would be reserved for the final report due next March, a TAIC spokesman said.

Related:

Photos of balloon crash victims

Balloon diaster: The victims

Farmer tells of screams of horror

Balloon crash a 50th birthday gift

Contact Seamus Boyer
Wairarapa reporter
Email: seamus.boyer@dompost.co.nz
Twitter: @SeamusBoyer

Wellington