A young couple who jumped from a burning hot air balloon
basket had their whole lives ahead of them and thought the
pilot they were flying with was the "safest" in New Zealand,
a coroner's inquest has been told.
Vivenne and Allan Still, parents of 19-year-old Alexis, gave
evidence at the fifth day of a coroner's inquest into her
death, along with 10 others, in the Carterton balloon tragedy
on January 7, 2012.
Through tears, Mrs Still told the inquest in Wellington about
her "bubbly, considerate, talented, gifted" daughter, who was
taken far too soon after boarding a flight with a pilot who
had no current medical certificate.
A crash investigation by the Transport Accident Investigation
Commission has already established errors made by pilot Lance
Hopping, 53, ultimately led to the balloon's demise.
He had flown the balloon into a paddock on Somerset Rd when
things went wrong and it struck power lines, caught on fire
and crashed to the ground.
Ms Still and her boyfriend Chrisjan Jordaan jumped from the
balloon basket when it was still entangled in the wires. They
died from their injuries.
The other nine people, including Mr Hopping, remained on the
burning balloon until it crashed to the ground.
Today, Mr and Mrs Still told the inquest their evidence
provided a voice for their daughter, and sought to make sure
no other families would ever endure the pain at losing a
child in an avoidable accident.
"She was an open person and gave herself freely to others,"
Mrs Still said of her daughter.
"She was a leader, she was a funny person, she would light up
the room with her presence."
"Had she not died prematurely in January 2012, she would have
continued to make a difference in the world," Mrs Still said.
Her daughter and Mr Jordaan were "so in love" with one
another, and the balloon trip was a gift from Chrisjan to
Alexis, Mrs Still said.
Mr Still told the inquest his daughter had reassured him on
several occasions Mr Hopping was the "safest" pilot in New
She would not have boarded the flight if she had known he did
not have a current medical certificate, he said.
Mr Still also asked Coroner Peter Ryan for a raft of
recommendations addressing problems with the accident,
including the enforcement of random drug and alcohol testing
in the adventure aviation tourism industry.
Toxicology results showed Mr Hopping had cannabis in his
system at the time of the accident, and impairment of the
drug could not be ruled as contributing to his judgement in
He also asked for a review into the process of identification
following crashes like the Carterton balloon accident, after
his family were made to wait four days to see the body of
their daughter - even though she had not been burnt by the
The inquest, at Wellington District Court, continues.
- Teuila Fuatai of APNZ