Canterbury balloonist says ballooning 'safe'

Last updated 05:00 09/01/2012

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A prominent Canterbury balloonist and friend of the pilot of the balloon at the heart of Saturday's disaster in the Wairarapa has cautioned against speculation over the cause of the tragedy.

Martyn Stacey, of Methven, was also at pains to stress that the sport is safe.

Stacey, the Aoraki Balloon Safaris operator and Balloon Aviation Association of New Zealand president, was a close friend of pilot Lance Hopping, who was killed along with 10 passengers in a fiery crash in Carterton early on Saturday morning.

Stacey had known Hopping for 14 years, and made regular trips to fly with him in Carterton.

He got news of his friend's death at 7.30am on Saturday and said he had had little rest since.

Messages of sympathy and numerous media inquiries have poured in from around the world.

"We competed against each other in competitions," he said.

"He's been my safety officer and was a very dedicated balloonist."

The news of the accident had come as shock. However, Stacey was not prepared to speculate about the cause of the crash.

"I think there will be a very thorough investigation; the Civil Aviation Authority is very thorough.

"That's why these things take a bit of time. Leave it with the authorities."

He said he believed Hopping was a capable pilot.

"It's a shock to the whole community. What we've got to reiterate now is that ballooning is safe. People have to understand that ballooning is a major tourist operation."

There had been only three fatal balloon accidents in New Zealand in the past century, he said.

"You've got more chance of drowning or being run over by a car."

Stacey suggested there may be some changes made to ballooning operational procedures as a result of the crash.

"There may be something we have to put in place. Let's wait till the experts get it right; it might be one out of the bag.

"In the meantime, all we operators are flying within procedures; we have strategies that we follow."

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- The Press

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