‘Deeply shaken’: Balloon company details crash that left 11 injured

The company which operates hot air balloon flights near Queenstown has revealed details of the crash this morning which injured 10 passengers and one of their pilots.

A police media spokeswoman said they were alerted just before 10 a.m. that a hot air balloon had “possibly crashed or made an emergency landing” at Morven Ferry Rd.

There would be 11 people on board the hot air balloon at that time.

St John’s Communications Adviser Gerard Campbell said two patients were airlifted to Dunedin Hospital with serious injuries, while nine were taken by ambulance to Lakes District Hospital, including one with moderate injuries.

Sunrise Balloons, the company behind the hot air balloon tour, released a statement revealing details of the accident this afternoon.

He said the approximately hour-long flight was uneventful, operating within its normal wind parameters, as it arrived in the landing zone at the private Morven Ferry Rd airstrip.

On approach, the balloon was caught by a sudden gust of wind and the gondola containing the passengers crashed on a low embankment.

Experienced balloon pilot Carrick McLellan was among the 11 injured and was treated at nearby Lakes District Hospital for moderate injuries sustained in the incident.

The balloon basket came to rest alongside a fence and trees near a driveway on the property. Immediately after the incident, balloon fabric draped over a subsidiary power line leading to the house.

The ten passengers on the flight were a mix of groups and individuals. All are considered New Zealand residents.

The company had temporarily suspended business operations and was cooperating fully with the police, Civil Aviation Authority and Transport Accident Investigation (Taic).

Sunrise Balloons owner and chief pilot Hugh McLellan said the company was “deeply upset” by the incident and the injuries suffered by its staff and guests.

“We fully support our staff and guests during this difficult time, and wish everyone a full and speedy recovery.

“An internal investigation is ongoing and we are working closely with all relevant authorities.”

Sunrise Balloons has been operating in the area for 23 years without incident.

St John Ambulance Central Otago Territory Manager David Baillie said the two most seriously injured patients suffered internal bleeding, while the other patients suffered “a range of minor fractures, bruises etc. “.

Mr Baillie said ambulances in Queenstown, Wanaka and Cromwell responded.

The power lines were “effectively managed” by the relevant authorities, he said.

“The scene stretched out quite a long distance, which is always difficult to manage, however, we were able to mobilize our patients fairly quickly.”

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he had just been briefed by police.

Contrary to reports, he said the balloon landed where it was supposed to land at Morven Ferry Rd, but upon landing it was “hit by a gust of wind”.

“Some people were thrown out of the basket, the ball basket was dragged on the ground until it hit a fence, and the other people either rolled out of the basket or were thrown out of the basket,” said Mr Boult.

“The ball itself then fell on power lines attached to the house, but this had no effect on anyone in the basket.

“On behalf of the community, I express our deepest condolences to those involved and wish them the best for a speedy recovery.”

Mr. Boult had no information on where the passengers were coming from.

Photographer James Allen said it appears the ball was blown off course.

“This one looks like it somehow blew through a set or two of power lines under the Queenstown cycle path. It traveled 30-50m up the side of a bank and then dragged maybe -being 100m into a deer paddock, through a deer fence, then crashed into the house.

“From the power lines to the house, there’s probably 200 yards of uncontrollable ball.”

He said there was a moderate breeze in the area.

“A good breeze here, nothing crazy. but a little windy.”

He said Sunrise Balloons staff were at home.

“A group of people were on the road with us and another group at the house itself.

“You can see a transport bus and the four-wheel drive and balloon trailer was also brought to the house.”

The company is family owned and has been operating in the region since 1998.

Owners Hugh and Maureen are supported by their son Carrick, a pilot, daughter Kirsty and son Graham.

The owner of the property where the hot air balloon crashed, Phillip Bunn, said the hot air balloon ended up next to his house.

He was not home at the time, but his sister was and witnessed the accident, leaving her very upset.

Balloons landed on their property quite often.

“I’m just sorry for the people on board.”

He was still in the dark about what had happened.

Mr Campbell said St John was made aware of the incident at 9.54am following a 111 call from a member of the public.

Two helicopters, four ambulances, a manager and a first response unit were evacuated.

There was a heavy police presence at the scene and the road had been cordoned off.

A woman who saw the ill-fated hot air balloon moments before it crashed said it appeared to be descending too fast and too low.

“I thought, ‘this is going too fast’ and looked a bit distressed.”

She said it worried her that he was so low to the ground in an area where he shouldn’t be.

“Normally I see hot air balloons all the time on a winter morning and as I was coming home from the school run I noticed that the hot air was flying quite low and not landing normally in the hot air balloon area. ‘Arrow Junction. Looked like it was in a bit of trouble.”

Another witness described the scene after the crash saying, “I can see a colorful balloon right in the middle of the trees.”

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (Taic) has opened an investigation and appointed two investigators, who are expected to arrive in Queenstown by late afternoon.

A Taic spokesperson said it was a “future safety-focused investigation”.

“The gathering of evidence and all of that takes the time necessary for the commission to come to conclusions and to be able to make recommendations that speak to the sector rather than the individual operator.”

One investigator was traveling from Christchurch and the other from Wellington – the inquest was likely to start tomorrow morning, the spokesman said.

Civil Aviation Authority senior communications adviser Mike Richards said the CAA was “considering a separate investigation”, but that had not yet been decided.

Power has been cut to 160 customers in the Gibbston and Arrow Junction areas on Morven Ferry Rd, Crown Terrace and McDonnell Rd according to Aurora Energy.

The power was cut at 10.18 a.m. at “the request of the emergency services” and was to be restored around 3 p.m.

Its website said power had been cut for 160 major customers in the Gibbston Valley and Arrow Junction areas on Morven Ferry Rd, Crown Terrace and McDonnell Rd.

A resident of Morven Ferry Rd, who asked not to be named, said the balloon crashed just down the road.

“I have never seen so many police cars, fire trucks and rescue cars zooming past.

“I don’t see any hot air balloons – there [was] definitely a helicopter there.

She was one of the customers without electricity following the accident.

Southland MP Joseph Mooney said he saw hot air balloons in the air near Queenstown on most fine mornings.

“It’s quite tragic,” he said.

With NZ Herald