Memorial park celebrates duo

By Nathan Crombie

The founders of a memorial to the two youngest victims of the Carterton balloon tragedy will be forever linked to the pair, says Carterton Mayor Ron Mark.

Leanne and Clayton Brown spent the past six months designing a children's garden and farm park, Wallowing Heights, in memory of Wellington couple Alexis Still, 19, and Chrisjan Jordaan, 21, who jumped to their deaths to escape the balloon that struck powerlines and caught fire above the Browns' Somerset Rd property on January 7. The balloon crash also claimed the lives of Carterton pilot Lance Hopping, 53, Wellington couple Howard and Diana Cox, aged 71 and 63, cousins Valerie Bennett, 70, of Masterton, and Denise Dellabarca, 58, of Paraparaumu, Masterton couple Desmond and Ann Dean, 65 and 70, Lower Hutt couple Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter, 49.

Mrs Brown, who was one of the first people on the scene that day, refuses to talk publicly about what she witnessed, saying "those last few moments belong to the families and not in the public arena".

Mr Mark officially opened Wallowing Heights on Saturday in a private ceremony that included representatives from several families who lost loved ones in the balloon tragedy.

Alexis' parents, Vivienne and Allan Still, from Wellington, and Chrisjan's father Jan, from Southland, unveiled the children's garden and cut the ribbons - yellow for Alexis and red for Chrisjan. Jan, whose wife Annie was unable to attend, was delighted.

Mr Mark told the Wairarapa Times-Age yesterday the attendance of the families sealed the memorial with their approval and showed "they were very happy with what has been done".

"The fact that they were moved says it all," he said.

"It's clear that what happened that morning remains deep in the hearts of Leanne and Clayton and will forever link them to Alexis and Chrisjan."

The young couple were both studying nursing at the time of their deaths and shared a passion for animals and children and the memorial captured that spirit and their joy in life, Mr Mark said.

"It's not just a memorial but it epitomises everything Alexis and Chrisjan did, and loved, and were. They loved children and animals and were fun kids who wanted to make things better for the benefit of children," he said.

Mr Mark said he was mindful that there were still to be investigations completed into the tragedy and "this still weighs heavy in the heart with these reports yet to come".

Wallowing Heights, which is the Browns' pig stud name, also features miniature ponies, which children can ride, as well as pedigree pig and sheep breeds.

There is a viewing shed, which Clayton says serves a double purpose as all the animals can be brought into the shelter in rough weather.

Information about each of the breeds adorns the walls, allowing children to learn about the animals they are seeing. As well as the larger animals on show there are also chickens and rabbits.

The couple has also planted 11 fruit trees in memory of each of the balloon victims.

Wallowing Heights will be open weekends and school holidays between 10am and 4pm, and weekdays by arrangement.


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