The ground crew chief of a fatal Carterton hot air balloon flight saw passengers panic and scream before the balloon was engulfed in flames and crashed.
Ground crew chief Clive Peters told an inquest today that he had been following the balloon the morning of the January 7, 2012 accident that killed all 11 on board. He said he had been watching as the accident happened.
The victims were 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, as well as the pilot Lance Robert Hopping, 53.
Hopping was later found to be a long term user of cannabis and had a level of THC - the active ingredient of cannabis - of two micrograms per litre of blood.
Peters said he saw the balloon become engulfed in flames as it rose.
"Once the envelope was burnt that was it, it dropped," he said in a statement read to the inquest.
"The screaming stopped and it was silent."
Peters said he had been waiting to help with landing after Hopping had said Somerset Rd would be the landing spot.
He said that when the balloon was about 30 feet up he heard Hopping shout to the passengers to duck down, to get them below the level of the basket.
Peters said he could then see the basket was caught up on power lines.
He could see Hopping trying to get lift and he ran towards the balloon to see if he could help.
As he got under the balloon he saw the power line would snap and spark and he ran for safety.
"I heard the passengers panic and scream then a young woman jumped," he said.
He described also seeing a young man jump before he ran back to his car to get a fire extinguisher.
Peters said that on the morning of the flight he organised things like checking the equipment and fuel, and checking with the pilot during the flight, as well as helping to organise where the pilot was thinking of landing so he could check for hazards.
Peters said Hopping was already at the take-off site at 5.30am when he arrived. He did not see him for 10-15 minutes while Hopping was in a shed and he did not know what the pilot was doing.
Peters said he had once seen someone offer cannabis to Hopping, who turned it down,
"I did not know Lance was using marijuana at all," he said.
Peters said he did not see Hopping smoking anything the morning of the accident and he had spoken to him several times.
The inquest in Wellington before Coroner Peter Ryan, continues.
- The Dominion Post