Balloon tragedy victims named

By Cherie Howie, Heather McCracken, Hayley Hannan, John Weekes, Michael Dickison, Hana Garrett-Walker, Kirsty Wynn, Joanne Carroll, Bevan Hurley, Seamus Boyer

Diana and Howard Cox, who died in yesterday's hot air ballooning accident . Photo / Supplied
Diana and Howard Cox, who died in yesterday's hot air ballooning accident . Photo / Supplied

Police have named the victims of the Carterton balloon tragedy. All victims are from the Wellington and Wairarapa regions.

Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Brent Register says Police wish to extend their heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased.

"Yesterday's fatal crash is not only a tragedy for the people of Carterton and the wider Wairarapa community, but for the whole of New Zealand, who are also mourning the loss of these victims. We will continue to support the families of the deceased as they begin to deal with their grief."

Those believed to have been on board the hot air balloon are as follows:

* Cousins Valerie Bennett, aged 70 of Masterton and Denise Dellabarca, aged 58 of Paraparaumu

* Partners Stephen Hopkirk, aged 50 and Belinda Harter, aged 49 of Lower Hutt

* Boyfriend and girlfriend Chrisjan (Johannes) Jordaan, aged 21 and Alexis Still, aged 19, of Wellington

* Hot air balloon pilot Lance Hopping, aged 53 of Masterton

* Husband and wife Desmond Dean, aged 70 and Ann Dean, aged 65, of Masterton

* Husband and wife Howard Cox, aged 71 and Diana Cox, aged 63, of Wellington

A further two bodies have been removed from the scene this afternoon, with the remaining bodies expected to be removed from the scene tonight and tomorrow.

Inspector Register says the Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) process to formally identify all of the eleven victims will take several days to complete.

Bad weather hampering balloon tragedy investigation

Rain is hampering the work of forensic investigators at the Carterton site where 11 people perished in a hot air balloon tragedy yesterday morning.

Police and forensic specialists are continuing the investigation into yesterday's balloon crash, but warn it will take some time to complete.

The tragedy occurred when a hot air balloon on a scenic flight struck powerlines, causing the craft to burst into flame and fall to the ground. The five couples on board and the pilot Lance Hopping were all killed.

"This is not a quick process and will take some time to complete, to ensure we complete a thorough investigation into how this tragedy occurred and ensure incidents of this nature do not reoccur in the future," said Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Brent Register.

The debris was spread over an area of 50m and was being forensically mapped.

The weather is an issue for the team, working in conditions where a heavy rain warning is in place until 9pm tonight, Mr Register said.

He said the DVI (Disaster Victim Identification) process to formally identify victims could take several days.

"Last night, two of the eleven bodies were removed from the scene," he said .

"We are working towards removing the bodies of the other nine victims over the course of the afternoon."

Officers returned to the Somerset Road site early this morning to continue the investigation.

About a dozen family members of victims were shown the site by police this morning.

Transport Accident Investigation Commission spokesman Peter Northcote said the investigation would likely take between six months and a year.

Mr Register said the families were holding up "pretty well under the circumstances".

"Everybody that goes up in a hot air balloon expects to have the time of their lives... this is a horrible tragedy."

Christmas gift

A couple who plunged to their deaths in one of New Zealand's worst aviation disasters received the hot air balloon trip as a Christmas present.

Masterton retirees Desmond and Ann Dean were among five couples with pilot Lance Hopping who perished on the ill-fated Cameron A-210 flight.

Their children, who gifted them the $350 flights, watched in horror as the balloon erupted in a ball of flames after hitting power lines during its descent about 7.25am yesterday.

Wellington couple Howard and Diana Cox were also confirmed as among the victims.

The family of Wellington woman Alexis Still, who was on the flight with boyfriend Chrisjan Jordaan, confirmed that she was among the victims.

The young couple had been together for a year after spending time on a church mission to Africa.

Daniel Tiaiti, associate pastor of the Arise Church which both attended, said today they were both very generous, gracious and loving.

The pair had been attending the church at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre for about five years, but had been a couple for about a year.

They both were part of a mission group that travelled to Africa in 2010, and got together after that, Mr Tiaiti said.

The hot air balloon operated by Early Morning Balloons left Kent St, Carterton about 6.45am. After a 40-minute flight, the pilot was preparing to land when the balloon struck wires and burst into flames.

Two of the 11 victims leapt to their death. The super-heated balloon then shot up "like a rocket" before crashing to earth 250m away. A large area of scorched earth marks the spot where the basket carrying the other nine people came down.

The first two bodies were removed from the scene last night and driven by hearse to the mortuary at Wellington Hospital.

The other nine were too burnt to identify and remained under guard at the site of the accident.

Photos seized

Images taken by a photographer of the moments after the balloon burst into flames have been seized by police and are expected to form a key part of the investigation.

Neighbours described the Deans as well respected and well liked in the community.

"They had a campervan they would cruise off in," said neighbour Paul Rushbrook.

"They were semi-retired and they were enjoying life. They had a nice house and were very organised. They were family-oriented people."

Another friend, Stella Rushbrook, said Desmond had been a builder for many years before retiring.

"He had a lot to do with the community through his work and he was really well liked," Rushbrook said.

"They were both such lovely people."

The couple are believed to have three children and were grandparents.

Cancer survivor Howard Cox died with his wife Diana in the inferno.

Their daughter, Upper Hutt woman Sarah Scarlett, was expected to visit the crash site today. Her partner Andy Collier said: "It's a disaster. There's not much to say. We have lost some good people. We are going to go to the scene tomorrow. You know as much as we know."

Howard Cox's son Jeremy raised several thousand dollars to help with his father's illness during prostate awareness campaign Movember in 2010.

Landcorp business manager Allan Still, Alexis' father, said the family was too upset to say much else. "We would like some privacy at the moment."

The other couples were from the Wellington region.

The grieving elderly parents of one of the victims were preparing to fly from Melbourne last night.

The photographer who caught the whole ballooning drama on film said the photos were extremely graphic and had been handed to police to help with the investigation.

Geoff Walker caught the incident from take-off to landing and said the only time he wasn't taking photos of the drama was when he dialled 111.

"I have seen a lot in my time and these photos were up there, it was upsetting," said Walker, who had been taking photos for the company for four years and was friends with Hopping.

He took photos of the five couples and Hopping as they prepared to take off for their early morning flight and said they were an amazing group who had plenty of laughs.

"They were a lovely bunch of people in great spirits as most people are when they are about to go ballooning," Walker said.

A police officer at the cordon last night said: "We're trying as fast as we can for the families' sake but the identification may take up to a week. They're that badly burnt."

Police guards would remain at the scene to keep the remaining bodies secure.

One family had been at the crash site and the others were also being given the opportunity to see the scene.

The bodies that had been removed were the two people who had jumped from the balloon. "As you can appreciate, it's been a very difficult day," the officer said.

Wairarapa police area commander Brent Register said: "This is a huge national, significant event. It's a tragedy as bad as tragedies get. Yes, it will affect our community here in the Wairarapa."

Tributes

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae led tributes last night from politicians, and national leaders.

"It was with a profound sense of both shock and disbelief that I learnt of the ballooning tragedy in the Wairarapa that claimed the lives of 11 people.

"A tragedy on this scale means many people, both in Carterton and elsewhere in New Zealand, will be grieving for those who died."

Sally Livingston from Early Morning Balloons promised to fully cooperate with the investigation.

She said: "This tragedy will affect many families and our thoughts and sympathies lie with the family and friends of these passengers and pilot whose lives have been tragically ended."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 11 Jul 2014 01:48:13 Processing Time: 458ms