The pilot killed with his 10 passengers yesterday was due to have married this summer.
Lance Hopping was making plans with his fiancee, Nina Kelynack, said his stepmother Pam Hopping.
One glimmer of relief in a dark day was that Nina's little niece was to have gone on the balloon ride yesterday, but was excluded after a couple booked.
Colin Kelynack said that the grim twist of fate had spared the family from yet another unbearable tragedy.
"The little [girl] was supposed to go on the balloon today too, but for some reason they took somebody else in her place. Otherwise she'd have been lost too."
Nina's father Stuart was yesterday comforting the daughter he had expected to be giving away at the wedding planned for March.
Former Carterton mayor Gary McPhee was to have been the marriage celebrant. He saw Hopping a week ago.
"Everything was going well," he said. "The business was going well."
Hopping, who is survived by son Henare and daughter Hayley in Australia, owned a ballooning concern called Ballooning New Zealand. But the balloon involved in the crash was owned by another company, Early Morning Balloons.
Hopping was a "giver" to the community, organising concerts and working as a truancy officer, McPhee said.
"He was community-minded," McPhee said. "This is going to be a big shock to the community. He's going to be really missed."
Hopping, a helicopter pilot, once surprised McPhee, his friend of 25 years, by landing in his backyard and taking him for a chopper ride as a 40th birthday present.
He remembers his friend as a "safe, structured" pilot.
Photographer Geoff Walker, who worked with Hopping for four years taking photos of people before their balloon rides, said Hopping was a "fantastic guy".
They had had coffee on Friday and had a great chat, Walker said.
"He did so much for other people. He went from a freezing worker to a helicopter pilot which is amazing. He was a really down-to-earth guy and he was all about safety."By Cherie Howie Email Cherie, Kirsty Wynn Email Kirsty