The families affected by the hot air balloon tragedy in Carterton held their last meeting together yesterday, beginning a long process of healing alongside the wider community.

People in the small Wairarapa town returned to their daily routines at shops and cafes along its main street, but at its northern end flowers piled higher at the police cordon around the crash site.

Mayor Ron Mark said everyone in the community was hurting. Paramedics, volunteer firefighters, ground crew for the balloon, eye witnesses and many others were closely involved in the tragedy.

Mr Mark had been going around the town to talk to people, and for a time he sat at the Wild Oats Cafe, where pilot Lance Hopping often shared coffees with friends.

Advertisement

"We will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, get up and go on," he said.

The community was now supporting the grieving families, and would move on to show thanks and support to locals involved.

"The healing process won't end until they've seen a balloon fly over Carterton."

Mr Mark said he would be going up in a balloon as a symbol of confidence being restored.

Carterton is so proud of its ballooning that it has been designed into a church's stained glass window.

St Mark's vicar Reverend Jenny Chalmers said the town will be changed forever.

"We won't be finished with this for a year in this little community. We won't be finished actively working for a year but it will always be a part of this town.

"This has marked this town, drawn it closer but made us all aware that our lives are finite.

"We talk about people being two degrees apart but in a place like Carterton you're only half a degree apart.

"I think that the community is still very flat. Very sombre."

But being a small community will help the people of Carterton, psychological experts say.

Auckland University of Technology professor of psychology and public health Max Abbott said the circumstances of the accident and the fact that people had died would mean many in town would be deeply traumatised.

"For some people it'll trigger things for them from previous memories or previous trauma that they haven't fully dealt with.

"To some extent, in a small town, a lot of other people will empathise in a way that perhaps wouldn't happen in a bigger place."

Professor Abbott said the authorities - including ambulance, fire and police officers - would also be deeply affected and would need some type of counselling.

"You get people who've been involved in the process. They also will have secondary reactions from dealing with that trauma and seeing other people's grief."

The closeness of the community meant that there would be a bigger and stronger support network, that would allow people to slowly move on.

"People grieve in their own ways. For some people, they don't go to counselling ... they just talk about it, talking it through. Some people deal with things differently and it takes longer for them to get through it.

"People do know one another and they have good support ... I expect there will be a huge amount of support from locals."

Counsellor and family therapist Suzi Wallis, who deals with grief counselling, said there were elements of being a close-knit group that would help. However, there were also negative aspects.

"It can mean people can end up drowning in it too - they can't get a break from it - so it's important to reach out if they can, to people outside, to get relief from the relentless nature of it."

Mrs Wallis said for many in the small town, the traumatic events of the past week would not sink in until weeks, months, or years later.

"Just talk to someone, anyone," she said. "It's so important to reach out if you need to."

GETTING HELP

If you need to speak to someone, call the 24-hour service Lifeline on 0800 543 354. If you're under 25, free text Youthline on 234 or phone them on 0800 376 633.

- additional reporting: Vaimoana Tapaleao