Updated 11:56am — Eleven people have been killed after a hot air balloon crashed near Carterton this morning.
All 11 people on board the scenic flight were killed and there were no survivors.
Police said they received “around half a dozen calls from residents in the Somerset Road area reporting a hot air balloon in difficulty” around 7.30am.
Wellington District Commander Superintendent Mike Rusbatch said at this stage it appears a fire has ignited on board, causing the hot air balloon to crash in farmland close to the Clareville showgrounds.
Police said they are working with a number of agencies including the Fire Service, the Coroner’s office, the Transport Accident and Investigation Commission, Civil Aviation Authority and the Department of Labour, to determine the cause of the crash.
One witness described flames bursting from the balloon’s basket as it hit the ground.
RadioLive reported witnesses saw people trying to jump out of the basket after the balloon hit power lines nearby. The victims were also reported to all be from the Wellington and Kapiti Coast regions.
It has been confirmed that there were five couples and the pilot killed in the incident.
David McKinlay, a Hornesberry St resident, said “It looked as if he had tried to take it higher. It was just flames and it was just a long streak of flames. Probably about 10 metres long. The impact must have been terrible.”
McKinlay, who called 111, saw the flames shooting out of the basket of the dark blue and maroon striped balloon.
After alerting emergency services, he said the balloon was 150 metres in the air and dropped quickly, describing it as “just a sheer flame as it hit the ground.”
“It came down like a bloody rocket and then there was a big bang,” he said.
Resident Don Cunningham told TVNZ he saw the balloon make what appeared to be a controlled descent, about half an hour after it took off.
“Conditions were perfect. There is hardly any wind so it wasn’t moving very quickly,” he said.
“I saw the canopy going down and then I heard some screaming and shouting and then suddenly a big pall of smoke.”
Mr Cunningham said emergency services were quickly on the scene and the fire was extinguished shortly after.
Carterton Mayor Ron Mark told TVNZ those on board were a mix of locals and visitors.
Ballooning NZ director Lance Hopping is thought to be the owner of the hot air balloon, although it is not known if he was on board the flight. He has over 1000 hours of commercial ballooning experience.
The balloon is believed to be a Cameron A-210, which can carry ten passengers plus one pilot.
Hopping is the safety manager of the popular Balloons Over Wairarapa event, according to organiser Jonathan Hooker.
There was a Transpower electricity outage immediately following the accident, although it is not known how widespread the power cut was.
“The power went out at our place in Carterton,” said local Bella Biggs.
“They hit a power pole. Power has only just come back on.”
Superintendent Rusbatch said a disaster victim identification team is heading to the scene to begin the process of identifying the bodies.
“This is an absolutely tragic incident and our thoughts are with the families of the deceased. We are in the process of notifying next of kin however we will not be releasing any names until all next of kin have been advised.
“We also have a number of police staff who are working with the families of the deceased to provide them with the support they need at this very difficult time.”
A no fly zone is also in place at the scene.
Police say they have no details yet of what caused the early morning crash in clear, bright conditions with minimal wind. The region is well known for its hot air ballooning.
The accident is the worst New Zealand aviation disaster since the Erebus crash.
– NZ HERALD STAFF/ APNZ / WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE