The couple who leaped to escape the hot-air balloon inferno were likely to have earlier thought about what they would do in that situation, a psychologist says.

In scenes reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks in New York, a couple plunged about 100m to their deaths to escape being burned alive in the hot air balloon disaster on Saturday.

Clinical psychologist Barry Kirker said the couple would have made a spilt-second decision to jump - but they might have decided much earlier that this was what they would do in case of an emergency.

"A lot of people go into this with a scenario in their minds about what they would do if they were in that situation."


He said all instincts were based on "some kind of scenario".

"Everybody at some stage in their lives would have thought about what they'd do if they were ever in this situation," he said.

"What do you do if you're faced with a gun? What do you do if you're going down on a plane? What do you do if you're up high and you have to escape?"

"People have their decisions in their subconscious."

Mr Kirker said the scenario was similar to that of the 9/11 victims, and the terror attacks might have put the thought to jump in the couple's minds.

They jumped just after the balloon hit the powerlines and before it rose again.

They may have decided to take the chance while they were as close as possible to the ground, Mr Kirker said.

Screams were heard as they plummeted towards the ground in a rural area near Carterton.

"They would have taken any slim chance to survive," Mr Kirker said.

Or the couple might have leaped from the burning balloon because they thought "anything would be better than burning alive", he said.

"A bit like the people who jumped from the Twin Towers in New York, they might have thought, 'What the heck, we've got nothing to lose - if we don't jump, we're definitely going to die'."

Mr Kirker said it would usually be the man who would take the lead in that situation and would suggest jumping from the basket to the woman.

And those who watched the disaster happen would also take time to heal from that experience.

Mr Kirker said that if after one month the witnesses were still reliving the event and on edge they may be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. In that case they should seek help.