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Crash victims remembered at balloon festival

Published: 6:04AM Friday March 09, 2012 Source: ONE News

An emotional service for the families of the people who died in a hot-air balloon crash at the beginning of the year has opened the Balloons Over Wairarapa festival.

But hopes of an aerial tribute were dashed as windy weather meant balloons could not get off the ground.

All 11 people on board the balloon died when it crashed near Carterton on Saturday January 7. Their hot air balloon caught fire after clipping powerlines and crashed in a field in January.

"We don't have to think too long to get quite emotional about it, but life goes on," said Carterton Mayor Ron Mark.

"You pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back going."

Balloons Over Wairarapa was due to start yesterday but bad weather delayed the festival opening.

The family members who were present in Carrington Park released white dove balloons to represent the 11 lives lost.

The crowd observed a minute's silence for those lost, as hot-air balloons inflated in the park.

Festival organisers say the tragedy has been a wake up call to make sure safety standards are in place to ensure the annual festival remains in the area.

"I'm going around checking everything three or four times, where I'd normally only check it twice," said Martyn Stacey from the NZ Balloon Association.

"But the pilots are very, very conscious of what's happening."

Twenty-four balloons are set to light up the sky in a glow show tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, the engineer who assessed the balloon that crashed is under investigation.

Civil Aviation Authority Director Steve Douglas said tests of the strength and porosity of the balloon envelope were not conducted according to the specifications in the maintenance manual.

"What the engineer has done is that he's used quite properly his experience and judgement in order to make those determinations, but hasn't always used the equipment and techniques provided for in the manual," Douglas said.
The CAA investigated all 73 New Zealand hot-air balloons after the tragedy and last month said the balloon involved in the Carterton tragedy might not have been airworthy.