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Balloon tragedy still ‘raw’

By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

Five years may have passed since the Carterton balloon tragedy, but the memories are still all too real for some.

Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of the disaster, in which 11 people tragically lost their lives.

On January 7, 2012, an early morning balloon ride became fatal when it hit powerlines, caught fire and

crashed into a field on Somerset Rd.

Wairarapa MP Ron Mark was the mayor of Carterton at the time, and said it still felt “like yesterday”.

“The raw emotions of it will never go away.

“A tragedy of such magnitude and of that kind has left a lasting impression on the minds of those people who were involved and who had to deal with it – not to mention the families.”

Mr Mark said he remembered the aftermath vividly, having attended many of the victim’s funerals.

The disaster had affected people Wairarapa-wide.

“But I guess it’s things like that that bring out the best in people, and you always hope that in amongst a tragedy that’s what you’ll see, and that’s what we did see in both Carterton and Wairarapa as a whole.

“And I’ll never forget the generosity of those citizens that stepped up at the time.”

Mr Mark said there was an outstanding need for formal recognition for some of the event’s first responders.

“It’s a terrible thing – something you would never wish on anyone, any family, any community, in any country.

“But these things happen, unfortunately they happen, and the measure of a community and how it responds, the level of humanity and passion that it shows, is mind-blowing.”

Five years since disaster

Former Carterton mayor Ron Mark wipes away tears during the 2016 ceremony.
Former Carterton mayor Ron Mark wipes away tears during the 2016 ceremony.

Mr Mark said yesterday that his “heart went out” to the victims’ families, who had been deprived of loved ones in a crash that many saw as avoidable.

An investigation into the crash by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission revealed traces of cannabis had been found in pilot Lance Hopping’s system.

Mr Mark had been up in a balloon with Mr Hopping a number of times, describing the experiences as surreal.

“The silence and the majesty of the whole thing… It’s just so heartbreaking that something that was so magical turned out to be so horrific, and we will always remember that.

“I don’t think in 20 years it will be any different.

“Let’s just hope that everybody has learnt something so that these lives may not have been lost in vain.”

Carterton Fire Brigade volunteers were among the first to the crash scene on that fateful Saturday morning.

“It’s five years on but it’s something I’ll never forget,” said Carterton senior station officer Wayne Robinson, who was fire chief at the time.

“Just like with anything you’ve got to move on, but it’s always at the back of your mind, you know you’ll never forget the sight we saw when we got there.”

Mr Robinson described the crash site as “a scene of total carnage”.

“We got the call to a hot air balloon that had crash-landed and was on fire.

“So we went along not expecting too much until we turned up, and what we saw was indescribable really.”

Those who lost their lives that day were Valerie Bennett, 70, Diana Cox, 63, Howard Cox, 71, Ann Dean, 65, Desmond Dean, 70, Denise Dellabarca, 58, Belinda Harter, 49, Stephen Hopkirk, 50, Lance Hopping, 53, Chrisjan Jordaan, 21, and Alexis Still, 20.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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