N.Z. Investigates Hot Air Balloon Crash That Killed 11

N.Z. Investigates Fatal Hot Air Balloon Crash
The power wires that the balloon came in contact with before bursting into flames at the accident scene in Carterton, New Zealand. Photographer: Phil Reid/Pool via Getty Images

New Zealand police are investigating why a hot air balloon hit electrical wires and crashed in flames two days ago, killing 11 people.

At least six agencies are probing the crash with formal identification of the bodies expected to take “several days,” New Zealand police said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. The pilot and all 10 of the passengers on board are believed to be from New Zealand, police said.

The balloon struck power lines and caught fire as it was preparing to land after a 45-minute flight near Carterton, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of the capital, Wellington, according to police. After flames erupted, a male and a female jumped from the basket to their deaths and the craft made a sharp ascent before crashing to the ground and killing those still on board.

The investigation “is not a quick process and will take some time to complete,” Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Brent Register said in the statement.

The bodies of all 11 victims have been removed from the scene, Register said in a separate statement today. Police and other agencies met again with the families of those killed to “keep them abreast of investigations currently under way,” he said.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission and Civil Aviation Authority are among those involved in examining the New Zealand crash, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said.

“Experts will be looking to learn any lessons from the investigations which have begun today which can help improve safety for others in the future,” Brownlee said yesterday in a statement.

Tourism Industry

The balloon accident may damage a tourism industry that has become one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners, partly through highlighting outdoor activities such as bungy jumping, ballooning and skiing.

About 17 percent of New Zealand’s export earnings, or NZ$9.7 billion ($7.6 billion), came from tourism in the 12 months ended March 2011, with the industry representing almost 9 percent of gross domestic product.

The accident follows recent New Zealand disasters including a February earthquake in Christchurch that killed 181 and subsequent aftershocks that left the nation facing a damage bill of at least NZ$15 billion. Explosions at the Pike River coal mine in October 2010 claimed 29 lives.

The balloon accident is the biggest loss of New Zealand life in an air accident since 1979, when an Air New Zealand sightseeing flight over Antarctica crashed into Mount Erebus and killed all 257 passengers and crew.

An accident in 1989 resulted in 13 deaths when two balloons collided near the central Australian town of Alice Springs.

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