Top Shows

Contact ONE News

Balloon pilot 'very safety conscious'

Published: 6:42PM Saturday January 07, 2012 Source: ONE News

The man in control of the hot air balloon which crashed in Wairarapa was one of New Zealand's most experienced balloon pilots.

Shattered family and friends gathered in Carterton today to remember Lance Hopping who had been taking flights over the Wairarapa for more than 16 years.

Hopping had spent more than 10,000 hours in the air was the safety officer at the Wairarapa Ballooning Festival.

"He'd be one of the better pilots in New Zealand, very, very safety conscious, knows his business really well," Martyn Stacey, president of the Hot Air Ballooning Association, said.

Thousands of passengers knew Hopping and his balloon, called Mr Big. It was one of the largest to fly in New Zealand and could carry 10 passengers at a time.

Hopping's cousin Lorraine Rzoska said he loved to fly.

"He flies helicopters - he's been doing it for a long time and gets a lot of people from overseas coming over."

Hopping once said in an interview that the business has been built on people that have come along and had a great experience and then "gone away and told 10 friends".

Stacey said the company, Hastings-based Early Morning Balloons, has an extremely good operating record.

"They've been working out of Carterton and Masterton for many many years so it's just a shock that's something's happened this bad."

Today the company left a recorded statement saying the tragedy will affect many families. "Our thoughts and sympathy lie with the family and friends of the passengers and pilot whose lives have been tragically ended."

ONE News met with members of Hopping's family who gathered near the scene for much of the day.

They have requested privacy but said Hopping was a top bloke.

"Lance was a lovely man, he'd do anything for you, do anything for his mates and anybody else round Carterton," Rzoska said.

Hopping worked as a truancy officer in the district and Rzoska said he leaves a huge gap.

"He'll never be forgotten."