Lance "Hoppy" Hopping loved his Harley, fast cars, helicopters and hot-air balloons - but most of all his family. Born and bred in Carterton, the experienced pilot had been ballooning for 20 years and was described by his family as vibrant, with a big heart, a sense of humour and a cheeky grin.

Mr Hopping was the pilot of the hot-air balloon which struck powerlines in the Wairarapa town and caught fire, killing him and 10 others last Saturday.

The 53-year-old was due to marry Nina Kelynack this summer and last night she released a statement with his children Henare Hopping, 35, Hayley Hopping 31, and Dani Siemonek, 22.

They said Mr Hopping loved Carterton and worked at the Waingawa freezing works in Masterton before learning to carve paua and craft jewellery.


He gained his helicopter pilot's licence about 30 years ago, even delivering Henare and Hayley to school once, and started his company Ballooning New Zealand 17 years ago.

"It's really hard to describe Hoppy in a few words because he had such a big personality but he was always really happy, vibrant, caring, big-hearted, with a good sense of humour and a cheeky grin," said his family.

"Friends also referred to Hoppy as the 'Little General' in reference to his height and his bossiness."

For the past few years, Mr Hopping also worked part time as a truancy officer and got a lot of satisfaction from pushing children in the right direction.

He was a proud grandfather of six, aged between 2 weeks old and 11, and was looking forward to meeting his youngest granddaughter in April having only seen photos of her.

"Family was a huge part of his life, as was ballooning and the community of Carterton. Everyone in Carterton knew Hoppy and he will be greatly missed. He is gone too soon."

His three sisters, Lynette Helm, Karen Taylor and Sandra Andrickson, also told how their father, terminally ill with cancer, came from Australia to New Zealand 17 years ago to find his birth son and reunite their family.

They said their brother loved his Harley motorcycle, helicopters and balloons and to drive his car fast. "But his greatest love was his family."


Only four of the 11 victims have been formally identified: Mr Hopping, Alexis Still, 19, her boyfriend, Johannes (Chrisjan) Jordaan, 21, both of Wellington, and Stephen Hopkirk, 50.

Yesterday, crash investigators used a trailer to remove what remained of the hot-air balloon.

Meanwhile the community affected by the Pike River mine disaster and the September 2010 Fox Glacier plane crash has expressed sympathy.

A statement from the Pike River Welfare Advisory Group and West Coast mayors Tony Kokshoorn and Maureen Pugh said the tragic events in Carterton were "particularly poignant for the West Coast".