300 gather to remember balloon tragedy

Last updated 12:16 07/01/2013
balloon Hopkirk

Lower Hutt couple Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter, 49, were amongst those who died in the fatal hot air balloon tragedy in Carterton.

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A year to the day since 11 people died in a balloon crash near Carterton, about 300 people have crammed into a church near the scene to remember their loved ones.

Bob Hopkirk, whose son Stephen died in the tragedy on January 7 last year, spoke outside the service at St Marks Church in Carterton this morning, saying the past year had been ''up and down''.

"Every little thing, like this for example, these things crop up and bring it back to you.''

But Hopkirk, who travelled from Lower Hutt for the service, said he was glad he came.

The approximately six months still to wait until the release of findings into the causes of the crash "is not going to make much difference'', he said.

Vicar Jenny Chalmers, who was on the ground counselling families after the tragedy and said prayers as the bodies were removed, led today's service.

"It is extremely difficult because you are dealing with people in the most extreme rawness of grief,'' she said outside the service.

A year later people were still grieving but healing.

"We haven't yet got a statue or a monument to remember the people.

"This was the next best thing.''

During the service, family, friends, and witnesses to the accident, each lit a candle and, in doing so, said the name of their loved ones.

Plenty of those present said the name of balloon pilot Lance Hopping, who died on the day but was found to have cannabis in his blood.

But Rev Chalmers said locals in Carterton, where Hopping lived, were not blaming him.

"We have a huge regard for Lance,'' she said of the pilot, who also worked with truant children.

"He was a very ordered person and systematic.''

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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