- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2012

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A hot air balloon crashed and killed all 11 people aboard near the rural town of Carterton, some 94 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital, Wellington, officials said Saturday.

Wairarapa District Health Board spokeswoman Jill Stringer said the 11 people died when the balloon came down near show grounds north of the township in rural Wairarapa county.

Police have confirmed there were “multiple deaths” when the balloon crashed.

Witnesses told local media of seeing 32-foot (10-meter) high flames rising from the balloon’s basket before it plummeted to the ground.

“I was watering the garden and heard a noise, the noise of the gas to raise the balloon. I looked over and I couldn’t believe it — one side of the basket was on fire,” said local resident David McKinlay.



“It was just above the trees when I first saw it … it looked like he (the pilot) tried to raise it a bit higher … all of a sudden there was just 10 meters of flames,” he told the “Stuff” news web site. “It was like a rocket coming down — it was just unbelievable.”

Radio New Zealand quoted a cyclist who witnessed the crash reporting the balloon in flames as it descended.

Police said they have no details yet of what caused the early morning crash in clear, bright conditions with minimal wind. The region is well known for its hot air ballooning.

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