Wait for report on Carterton balloon crash

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 09:51 05/01/2013
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The path of the balloon and the place where it crashed.

Final moments of doomed balloon flight

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Mourners at the Carterton-Balloons over Wairarapa Mass Ascension and Tribute Flight at Carrington Park in Carterton.

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Families of those killed in last year's Carterton balloon crash will have to wait for a further six months for a final report on the tragedy.

An investigation was started by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) one year ago after a balloon piloted by Lance Hopping hit powerlines on January 7, 2012.

The balloon burst into flames and crashed into a paddock on Somerset Rd, just north of Carterton, killing Mr Hopping and all 10 passengers.

TAIC spokesman Peter Northcote said the investigation was now "well into the analysis stage", but would not be ready until "mid-year".

"When this work is completed in the next two to three months, formal consultations will commence with the various parties involved before the commission [confirms] and releases its final report."

The final report is likely to include analysis of the established facts, plus recommendations on how a future tragedy could be avoided.

Lower Hutt man Bob Hopkirk, whose son, Stephen, died in the crash, said he expected some recommendations to target the use of cannabis, after traces were found in Hopping's blood.

"But you can make rules and whether people stick to them is another thing."

Stephen Hopkirk had received the balloon ride as a 50th birthday present from his partner, Belinda Harter, who was also killed.

Families had been kept well-informed by TAIC as to the timeframe, Hopkirk said.

While he welcomed the final report, it would not "do much" for the families involved.

"It's a little bit 'So what' really. We've got a pretty good idea of what happened and you can use your imagination a bit too."

An interim report released by TAIC in May detailed the movements of the balloon during its fateful flight, and used photographs and witness accounts to piece together what had happened after impact with the powerlines.

It found that as the balloon prepared to land, it descended to within 5 metres of the ground, with relatives of some of the victims saying an "isolated gust of wind" had then caused the balloon to veer sharply toward the lines.

After becoming stuck, two passengers leapt from the burning basket before one of the powerlines snapped.

The balloon shot 150m into the air, then collapsed in flames.

The crash was the deadliest involving a New Zealand aircraft since the 1979 Erebus disaster.

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- The Dominion Post

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