Friday, 6 January 2012
11 dead in New Zealand hot air balloon crash
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A hot air balloon crashed and killed all 11 people aboard near a rural New Zealand town some 94 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital, Wellington, officials said Saturday.
Police confirmed "multiple deaths" when the balloon crashed, with two people leaping from the burning basket. Neither survived the fall, near show grounds north of the township of Carterton.
A Wellington police district commander, Superintendent Mike Rusbatch, said it appeared the balloon struck power lines that set a fire on board, causing the balloon to crash in farmland in clear, bright early morning conditions with minimal wind. The region is well known for its hot air ballooning.
There were five couples on board from the Wellington region, and the pilot.
Rusbatch said two people jumped from the basket before it hit the ground, but they did not survive. A number of the bodies had been badly burned.
"We believe we know who the victims were," he told the news Web site "Stuff," adding, "this is a significant event. A tragedy for those involved and their families."
Witnesses told local media of seeing 32-foot (10-meter) high flames rising from the balloon's basket before it plummeted to the ground.New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission manager Peter Northcote said the commission had opened an inquiry into the crash, with investigators already on the scene.
The Commission conducts safety-focused investigations to explain the causes of an accident and help reduce the likelihood of similar events.
Local media reported the fatal balloon crash as the worst aviation crash in New Zealand since the Nov. 28, 1979 Erebus disaster, when an Air New Zealand DC-8 airliner on a scenic flight slammed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 on board.