An investigation has been launched into a hot air balloon crash yesterday near Queenstown that injured 11 people and left occupants "just hanging on" to stay inside the basket.
The Sunrise Balloons trip was "hit by a gust of wind" shortly before landing at 9.55am yesterday at its scheduled landing site off Morven Ferry Rd, Arrowtown.
The basket containing 10 passengers and the pilot hit a low bank and came to rest alongside a fence and trees near a property driveway. Balloon fabric was draped over nearby powerlines.
Two people were seriously injured and nine others suffered minor injuries.
Sunrise Balloons owner and chief pilot Hugh McLellan said he was "deeply upset" by the accident and the company had temporarily suspended its commercial operation as it co-operated with police.
"We are fully supporting our staff and guests at this difficult time, and we wish all involved a full and speedy recovery," McLellan said.
"An internal investigation is underway and we are working closely with all relevant authorities."
Last night, Southern DHB confirmed two patients remained in a serious but stable condition after being helicoptered to Dunedin Hospital.
The other nine patients with minor injures - including experienced balloon pilot Carrick McLellan - had all been discharged from Lakes District Hospital.
St John Ambulance Central Otago territory manager David Baillie said the two patients with the most serious injuries had sustained internal bleeding, while the remainder of the patients had sustained "a range of minor fractures, bruises, etc".
An occupant in the balloon crash, Rob Pine, told Newshub he "was just hanging on" to stay inside the basket as it dramatically dragged along the ground upon landing.
"It lifted up again and then came back down for another one," Pine said.
"I don't think it actually tumbled although it's pretty hard to figure out what's going on when you're inside it trying to hand in the basket and not get thrown out."
Sunrise Balloons confirmed the 10 passengers on the flight were a mixture of groups and individuals, all of whom are understood to be New Zealand residents.
Among those on board were a group celebrating a birthday.
Queenstown Lakes mayor Jim Boult said he had been briefed by police that "some people were thrown out of the basket".
"The balloon basket dragged across the ground until it hit a fence, and the remaining people either exited the basket or were thrown out of the basket," Boult said.
"On behalf of the community, I express our deepest sympathies to those involved, and we wish them all the very best for a speedy recovery."
Police were advised of the incident but said they were not investigating and the Civil Aviation Authority and Transport Accident Investigation Commission would be taking the lead on investigating. Both authorities were arriving in Queenstown last night.
Photographer James Allen said it appeared the balloon had been dragged off course and blown through two sets of powerlines below the Queenstown cycle trail.
"It's travelled 30 to 50 metres into the side of a bank then dragged maybe 100 metres into a deer paddock, through a deer fence and then slammed into the house," Allen said.
"From the power lines to the house is probably a good 200 metres of out-of-control balloon."
Sunrise Balloons is family-owned and has operated in the region since 1998. In a statement the company said it had been operating for all that time without incident.
The owner of the property where the hot air balloon crashed, Phillip Bunn, said the balloon ended up next to his house.
He was not home at the time, but his sister was and witnessed the crash, which left her very upset.
Balloons landed on their property quite often.
"I just feel sorry for the people on board."