New Zealand balloon disaster kills 11
A scenic balloon ride in New Zealand ended in tragedy. Image: Rich Jacques/Flickr/CC BY-ND

A hot air balloon caught fire and crashed in New Zealand Saturday morning. Officials say eleven people — the pilot and five couples — were all killed.

A popular area for ballooning

The crash occurred about 50 miles northeast of Wellington on New Zealand’s North Island, at the outskirts of the town of Carterton. The balloon, popular in the area, was on a scenic trip. There were no survivors.

Unclear how the fire started

Superintendent Mike Rusbatch of the Wellington division of the New Zealand Police said the crash likely occurred from a fire in the basket that traveled up to the balloon, causing it to ignite and drop. It is unclear how the fire began.

Rus batch said:

“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.”

Weather not a factor

A spokeswoman for the Wairarapa District Health Board said “It was a perfect morning for ballooning,” indicating that the weather was likely not a factor in the tragedy.

‘Long, pencil-like flame’

One eyewitness, David McKinlay, told TV New Zealand that he saw flames rising from the basket as it fell:

“There were flames licking up the side of the basket, right up the guy ropes. … There was a big, long, pencil-like flame maybe 20 meters long, heading towards the ground at a terrible speed.”

Balloon struck power lines

Another eyewitness said he was waving to the passengers in the balloon when it struck a power line:

“[It] clipped a power wire and tried to go up, then they’ve sort of gone across the road then it’s caught fire.”

The balloon’s collision with the power line caused the area to lose power for about 20 minutes.

Worst air disaster in 30 years

The incident is the worst aviation accident in new Zealand in more than 30 years. In 1979 a sightseeing plane crashed into Mount Erebus, killing 237 passengers and 20 crew members.


USA Today

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