Fatal balloon crash victims named
Police have released the names of the 11 people killed in a balloon crash near Carterton.
The 11 died when their Early Morning Balloons flight hit powerlines and burst into flames yesterday.
They were this afternoon named as balloon pilot Lance Hopping, 53 of Masterton, Howard and Diana Cox, aged 71 and 63, of Wellington, Desmond and Ann Dean, 65 and 70, of Masterton, cousins Valerie Bennett, 70, of Masterton, and Denise Dellabarca, 58, of Paraparaumu, Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter, 49, of Lower Hutt, and Johannes (Chrisjan) Jordaan, 21, and Alexis Still, 19, of Wellington.
Wairarapa Area Commander Brent Register extended his heartfelt sympathies to the families of those who died in the crash.
Police would remain in contact with the victims' families as they came to terms with their loss, he said.
Photos of the victims would be released in the coming days.
"These families are extremely shocked," Register said.
A further two bodies were removed from the scene this afternoon, while another two were bought out by two hearses this evening, under police escort, and in torrential rain.
The others would remain at the scene overnight, police said.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has vowed to "leave no stone unturned" as they work to establish what caused a fatal balloon accident near Carterton.
TAIC communications manager Peter Northcote told media this afternoon that the investigation was in its "very early stages".
"This investigation, this inquiry will take some time. Six months to a year would be typical for an inquiry of this nature," Northcote said.
A team of four investigators from the commission arrived at the scene late yesterday morning.
"The role of the investigation team on site is to gather evidence and to put that in front of the commission. They are being briefed as the investigation unfolds."
The investigators had reviewed photography of the flight and interviewed some of the key witnesses to the crash, he said.
They returned to the crash site this morning to further examine the scene. The remaining bodies would be removed when they were finished.
There would be a further detailed examination of the wreckage once the bodies had been removed, Northcote said.
The balloon wreckage would likely be removed in the next few days.
Investigators would look also at the life of the balloon, which would include talks with Cameron, the company in the United Kingdom that manufactured it, he said.
They would also investigate Saturday's flight from the "conceptual stages" until it crashed, Northcote said.
"…As we leave no stone unturned as we look at all the possibilities that may have contributed to this event so hopefully we can make some findings and the commission can make some recommendations which might prevent a recurrence of a similar type of event."
THREE POLICE INVESTIGATIONS
The police investigation into the ballooning accident had now split into three phases, said Register.
The first phase had been the process to identify the victims.
"[Staff] are working at the moment to remove the last nine bodies from the scene," Register said.
He said bodies would be taken to Wellington to complete the identification process.
The second phase was working with the victims' families.
The third phase was the accident investigation, Register said. "This again will not be a quick process - it will take some time for us to complete this."
He said the weather was causing some issues, with a heavy rain warning issued for Wairarapa in place until 9pm tonight.
"We're expecting about 70mm of rain."
Police had erected more marquees to help with the weather conditions.
They had several photos of the incident they were using. "Some of those photos are quite graphic in nature," Register said.
The two people who jumped from the basket were the two bodies that had been taken to Wellington mortuary.
There was debris spread over a diameter of around 50 metres.
This included the balloon, four LPG containers, and then "what can only be described as the wreckage."
Register said identifying the bodies was a very difficult process.
"It's very hard to talk about - when the balloon has caught fire it's burned rapidly. Coupled with that, it's fallen from a height. So the injuries are very bad."
"This is just a horrific accident," Register said. He said the families were holding up but it was difficult.
"Everybody who goes ballooning normally expects to have the time of their life. But this is just a horrible tragedy and they're dealing with it as best they can."
Yellow flags mark where debris from the crash landed. In an adjacent paddock, the power line where the balloon hit could be seen.
It was on the same field where the two bodies of the passengers who jumped from the basket were found.
Media were allowed brief access to the site this morning, with one photographer and one television cameraman escorted through to take photos and video.
The police cordon at both ends of Somerset Rd remained in place.
- Reporting by Tony Wall, Nicola Russell, Kirsty Johnston, Greer McDonald, Clio Francis, Blair Ensor, Walt Dickson and Lesley Longstaff.