Multiple agencies are investigating a hot air balloon crash near
Carterton which has left 11 people dead and a community in
Five couples from the Wellington region and pilot Lance Hopping were killed when the balloon crashed beside State Highway Two at Clareville just before 7.30am.
Police said tonight two of the eleven bodies, a male and female, have been taken to Wellington Hospital's mortuary. The bodies taken to the morgue belonged to two people who jumped from the balloon before it crashed.
The other nine bodies will remain at the scene overnight as teams work to identify them.
Police said the balloon was trying to land in a paddock after a 45-minute scenic flight when it hit powerlines, sparking a fire in the basket.
Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Brent Register said the balloon then started to climb sharply, a fire ignited on board and the balloon plummeted into a paddock near Somerset Road.
Police are working with numerous agencies including the Civil Aviation Authority, the Transport Accident and Investigation Commission, Department of Labour and the NZ Fire Service to work out the cause of the crash.
The first two of up to four investigators arrived at the scene at midday for the probe, which Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said would be about "looking to learn lessons for the future."
The balloon was operated by Hastings-based Early Morning Balloons.
A disaster victim identification team has been called in to identify the bodies and police staff are working with families to provide support.
Family members watched on
Nurses Annette Tempest and Jacqui O'Connor, who were holidaying in the area, witnessed the crash and rushed to the scene to try to help victims.
"We were one of the first on the scene and it was carnage," O'Connor told ONE News.
"There was family there and that was horrendous. They were hugging and there was wailing and complete and utter shock. Just unbelievable really."
Tempest said some were trying to call other family members.
"It was pretty blunt, to the point 'mum and dad are dead, come now, we need you'."
She said no one attempted to try and get to the crash site.
"It was too horrific a scene for them to go to."
Eyewitnesses told ONE News reporter Sarah Batley the balloon was about 150 metres in the air when "things seemed to go wrong" and it burst into flames. They said it "came down like a rocket" with a "huge bang".
Local man Bevan Lambess was driving in the area when he saw
the disaster unfold . He said he noticed a power
line holding the basket down and the side of the basket was in
Lambess said when the line came free from the balloon it shot into the air then plunged to the ground.
Lambess could see two people still in the basket and said it was too high for them to have jumped out.
"They couldn't have got out."
He said the accident will have a big impact on the area which is
regarded as the ballooning capital of New Zealand.
Pall of smoke
Former ONE News operations manager Don Cunningham lives in Carterton and saw the balloon take off at the normal time of about 6.40am.
Cunningham said he heard the gas burners going and saw the canopy going down in what looked like a controlled descent behind the trees at about 7.15am.
Conditions were perfect with hardly any wind, Cunningham said, adding that the balloon wasn't moving very quickly. He said he heard screaming and shouting and saw a big pall of smoke.
Fire, police and ambulance all raced to the scene and Cunningham said it was obvious that it was a serious incident. He said the fire brigade appeared to get the fire under control fairly quickly because he saw the smoke turn from black to white.
Cunningham said although it seemed to him to be a controlled descent, a neighbour has told him the canopy appeared to be on fire.
Carterton resident David McKinlay was outside watering his
garden when the balloon caught fire.
He told ONE News he heard the balloon's burner
and looked up to see flames licking up the side of the basket and
onto the guy ropes before reaching the balloon itself.
McKinlay said he went inside to call 111 and by the time he got back out the balloon had almost completely disintegrated.
McKinlay, who has been up in the balloon with his wife, said they see it often at this time of the year.
He says it looked like a big long flame, maybe 20 metres or longer, as it shot towards the ground "at colossal speed".
After it hit the ground, McKinlay saw a plume of black smoke rising from the wreck.
Mayor Ron Mark believes the tragedy will touch most people in the community. He said passengers on the flight were a mixture of locals and visitors.
"We're a very small tight-knit community," he said.
"It's very tragic for us, very tragic for New Zealand but for a little community like ours, it hits home really hard."
He said a control centre had been set up at the Carterton fire station where victim support teams would be working out of.
It is New Zealand's worst aviation disaster since the Erebus crash in 1979.
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