Deans' treat turns to disaster

Last updated 05:00 08/01/2012
Friends and family gather at the scene of yesterday's hot air balloon tragedy at Carterton, which claimed 11 lives.
GRIEF-STRICKEN: Friends and family gather at the scene of yesterday's hot air balloon tragedy at Carterton, which claimed 11 lives.

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It was to be a celebratory treat for Des and Ann Dean.

Instead the Masterton couple, in their 60s, became victims of the Carterton hot air balloon tragedy.

It is understood two of the other couples came from Wellington, one from Porirua, and the other from Lower Hutt.

Carterton residents were left reeling by the tragedy, but it is the death of the Deans – Masterton community stalwarts – that has hit hardest.

Des and Ann had three adult daughters – Fiona, Bronwyn and Deborah. A semi-retired builder, Des was also a keen squash player.

Masterton Squash Club president Malcolm Wyeth, good friends with the family, said he was too upset to share his memories.

All three daughters took after their parents in their love of squash, with the youngest, Fiona, starting as a junior at the Masterton club alongside her mum and dad and elder sisters, then going on to play at representative level.

Masterton councillor Gary Caffell said Des was an excellent player and he had even competed against him in the past. "He gave it everything he had," he said.

Caffell also knew pilot Lance Hopping. His wife Barbara had spent the day with Hopping's fiancee Nina Kelynack, supporting her at her home – they were friends and work colleagues.

He said it had been a tragic day for the community. "It's difficult for everybody to come to terms with. It's really sad – really sad."

Former world squash champion Dame Susan Devoy also paid tribute to Des Dean. She had met him several times during her career and also knew Fiona Dean well.

"I hadn't seen him for a few years but he was one of those stalwart blokes you meet, that you never forget, really," Devoy told the Sunday Star-Times.

"Sport has a lot of those. I am totally taken aback. It is awful.

"Fiona is a fantastic young women. And she did pretty well because her parents were those local rural supporters.

"I just want to send my condolences to the family."

Police know the names of all on the ill-fated trip from photos taken by photographer Geoff Walker, who worked with Hopping to photograph each trip.

But the bodies were so badly burnt that disaster recovery experts face a grisly task in officially identifying each of them.

While two of the passengers leapt to their deaths, the other eight and Hopping were in the flaming basket that plunged to the ground soon after touching powerlines.

Two of the 11 bodies were removed from the crash scene last night and taken to Wellington Hospital's mortuary, Wairarapa police area commander Brent Register said.

The other nine bodies remained at the scene, which Register described as "very bad".

It could take the identification team several days to complete its work, he said.

Register said a family liaison team had spent yesterday working with some of the families of those killed, providing them with support.

"Our thoughts are with them all as they come to terms with what has occurred."

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Tony Wall, Marika Hill, Nicola Russell and Neil Reid

- Sunday Star Times

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