23 Jan 2015

Photos of balloon crash released

8:39 pm on 23 January 2015

Graphic photographs of the Carterton hot-air balloon tragedy three years ago have been released, in line with some family members' wishes, and after a photographer dropped his appeal against their publication.

Policemen at the site of the crash near Carterton in 2012.

Police at the site of the crash in 2012 (file photo - not one of the four photos released today) Photo: AFP

Eleven people including pilot Lance Hopping died when the balloon hit power lines and caught fire on 7 January 2012.

The four images now able to be published show it burning up in mid-air.

The High Court had allowed their publication in a October ruling last year but the photographer, Geoff Walker, appealed, claiming it would breach his copyright.

Mr Walker has now dropped that appeal.

Some of the victims' families last year supported the release of the photos, saying they illustrated the danger of hot-air balloons.

Radio New Zealand News has chosen to publish only two of the photos released today.

One of the four photos released by the coroner today.

Photo: SUPPLIED

The coroner has released four photos of the Carterton hot-air balloon tragedy.

Photo: SUPPLIED

The father of one of the victims of the crash has said the publication of photos of the tragedy was necessary to send a warning about the danger of ballooning.

Allan Still - the father of the youngest victim, Alexis - said their release was the best outcome from the coroner's inquest.

"It's going to be a bit tough seeing those ... We've actually seen the photographs, anyway. But I guess having them out in the public arena is just another step.

"I can only speak for our family - but we're happy to have them released, because we feel that the public of New Zealand should be completely aware of what can happen when you hop into a hot-air balloon.

"All we can really try to achieve now is that that sort of incident isn't repeated again."

Mr Still said the photographs may not prevent people from ballooning but it may make them more aware of the risks.

Photographer drops appeal

The coroner had ruled during the inquest that four photos taken during the crash could be published - but Mr Walker had asked the High Court to overturn that ruling.

His appeal was lodged on 4 November 2014, the day they were due to be published, on the grounds they breached his copyright.

They have since been held on court file and are now able to be published by the media, after Mr Walker on Wednesday dropped his appeal.

He had already released a number of photos taken before the flight.

Mr Walker told Checkpoint he was disappointed the photos were now able to be published. He said the coroner had not asked to use his photos.

"I loaned them to the police and that's the end of the story. They've passed them to the coroner and the coroner thinks they're his."

He said there was no public interest in publishing the images.

"The ballooning people don't want them released. The fire brigade don't want them released. The ambulance people don't want them released. The victim support people don't [want them] released. Some of the families at least don't want them released - there's a few that do.

"Of the thousands of people that have spoken to me, maybe one or two could see any value in having them released."

He added that he was not looking for compensation.

"It's not about money. It's about my decision what to do with my things. That is what copyright is about."

Mr Walker said he had huge interest from international media who wanted to purchase the photographs but he had turned them down out of respect for the victims.

His lawyer, Mary Scholtens, said an agreement was reached that he would remain the owner of the photos but the coroner's decision overrode that.

"There was an understanding between Geoff Walker and the police that they'd be provided to the coroner but that the photos remained within Geoff's ownership ... but the police put all the photos to the coroner," she said.

"From then on, Geoff really didn't have any control or particular say over what happened."