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New Zealand hot-air ballon fire kills 11

A hot air balloon carrying 11 people turned into a horrifying tower of "sheer flame" after hitting power lines in a rural area of New Zealand.

All aboard were killed, including two people who jumped out of the basket in desperation before the fiery balloon plummeted to the ground.

The balloon crashed near the township of Carterton, in a region to the south of the capital Wellington well known for its hot air ballooning, in clear, bright conditions with minimal wind.

The pilot and five couples were on board and all are believed to be from the Wellington area.

Police spokesman Mike Rusbatch said it appeared the balloon's basket struck power lines and that started a fire on board.

Witnesses told of 32ft flames rising from the basket of the dark blue and maroon striped balloon before it fell to the ground. Bevan Lambeth said the basket was on fire "and the power lines were holding the basket down, but it was still about 50 metres in the air. Then the whole basket started to go up in flames" as the balloon broke clear of the electric lines.

"I saw (it) then go straight up in the air and the flames just engulfed the whole balloon and it crashed to the ground. When it came down it came down really quickly," he told TVOne News.

An aerial photo of the crash site shows two circles of black ash in a green field, close to a white house.

The burning balloon was just above some trees when David McKinlay saw it as he watered his garden. The balloon rose to 500ft before dropping quickly, and turned to "just a sheer flame as it hit the ground" with a big bang, Mr McKinlay said.

The only victim publicly identified so far is the pilot and balloon owner, Lance Hopping. He was safety officer for the Balloons over Wairarapa annual event, and was considered an experienced and safety-conscious pilot.