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11 Dead in New Zealand Hot Air Balloon Crash

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A hot air balloon crashed and killed all 11 people aboard near a rural New Zealand town 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 of Carterton.

Police 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 said. "It was like a rocket coming down — it was just unbelievable."

The dark blue and maroon striped balloon was about 500 feet (150 meters) in the air and dropped quickly, turning to "just a sheer flame as it hit the ground," where "there was a big bang," he said.

Rosalee Thurston was in a car with her husband and daughter when they saw "a puff of smoke in the sky and then flames as the balloon fell to the earth," she told TVOne News.

Another witness who asked not to be named said the balloon "clipped a power wire and tried to go up, then they've sort of gone across the road then it's caught fire."

Before the accident he had waved to the balloonists as they passed overhead.

"Then I heard the screams and looked out the window and heard it coming down. .. I heard them, they sounded like screams of joy but they weren't," he said.

"I ran down the road to see if I could help but by that stage it was too late. It was just burned out," he told the "Stuff" news web site.

The stricken balloon hit power lines as it fell, causing electricity cuts in the local area for about 20 minutes, officials said.

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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