9 Jan 2012

Last bodies removed from balloon crash site

9:07 pm on 9 January 2012

The last remaining bodies from a horror hot air balloon crash near Carterton in Wairarapa have been removed from the site on Monday.

Eleven people on board the balloon were killed when it struck power lines and plummeted into a paddock on Saturday morning.

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Police on Sunday named the people who died and have released some photos with the families' permission.

The bodies have been taken to Wellington for examination by a disaster identification team and formal identification will take several days to complete.

Family members met with police and visited the crash site on Monday.

Ruth McIntosh, the sister of one of the victims Stephen Hopkirk, says he died on his 50th birthday and the trip was a present from his partner Belinda Harter, who was also killed.

The coroner is investigating how those on board the balloon died, and a Transport Accident Investigation Commission team has been gathering evidence to determine the causes of the accident.

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Wreckage has been taken to Wellington for further examination. The site is expected to be cleared by Wednesday. The commission says a full inquiry into the crash could take anywhere from six months to a year.

Police say they will continue to support those families who lost loved ones over the coming days, weeks and months.

Saturday's accident is the third fatal hot air ballooning incident in New Zealand. The first in the 1890s killed the sole occupant on board. The second in 1995 claimed the lives of three Japanese tourists when it crashed into the surf at a Christchurch beach.

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Passengers and pilot named

Pilot Lance Hopping, 53, of Masterton; husband and wife Howard Cox, 71, and Diana Cox, 63, of Wellington; husband and wife Desmond Dean, 70, and Ann Dean, 65, of Masterton; cousins Valerie Bennett, 70, of Masterton and Denise Dellabarca, 58, of Paraparaumu; partners Stephen Hopkirk, 50, and Belinda Harter, 49, of Lower Hutt; boyfriend and girlfriend Chrisjan (Johannes) Jordann, 21, and Alexis Still, 19, both of Wellington.

Festival tribute

The mayor of Carterton mayor says the tragedy does not spell the end of ballooning in the region.

Ron Mark told Radio New Zealand's Summer Report programme on Monday the annual balloon festival in March will serve as a tribute to those who died.

Tributes have been pouring in and a condolence book has been set up at the Carterton Events Centre.