An inquiry has been launched after a hot air balloon crashed in New Zealand killing everyone on board – five couples and the pilot.
The balloon came down near Carterton, 95 miles north of the capital, Wellington.
It apparently hit power lines and the basket then caught fire.
Two victims are believed to have been killed jumping from the basket to escape the flames.
The 11 on board were five couples from the Wellington area and the pilot.
Witnesses said they saw 10m (32ft)-high flames rising from the basket of the dark blue and maroon striped balloon before it plummeted to the farmland below.
Friends and family comfort one another near the crash scene
One witness who lives close the crash site told the New Zealand Herald some of the victims’ relatives waiting nearby told her they had bought the balloon ride tickets for their parents for Christmas.
Aurea Hickland, who saw the accident happen as she was having breakfast, told the paper: “It was terrible.”
“I said to my husband, ‘Oh no, the basket’s on fire, the basket’s on fire’,” she went on.
“We saw the two people jump and I said to Neil, ‘They won’t survive,’ it was just awful.
“It shot up in the air, and everyone was screaming – the screaming was just terrible – and then when the canopy went up in flames it just dropped,” she said.
“Neil ran out and then came back with two of the family members (waiting for the balloon to land) and one was saying that they had bought the tickets for their parents for Christmas.
“They just kept saying ‘How are we going to tell our children?'”
Another witness Bevan Lambeth has described how the basket was on fire “and the power lines were holding the basket down, but it was still about 50m (165ft) in the air.
“Then the whole basket started to go up in flames”, she added, as the balloon broke clear of the electric lines.
The crash happened just outside the town of Carterton
“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 the trees when David McKinlay saw it as he watered his garden.
“It looked like he (the pilot) tried to raise it a bit higher… All of a sudden there was just 10m of flames,” he said.
The balloon rose to 150m (500ft) before dropping quickly, and turned to “just a sheer flame as it hit the ground” with a big bang, Mr McKinlay added.
Another witness told Fairfax News he was waving to the passengers as the balloon passed overhead and appeared to hit a power cable.
“The people were enjoying a nice ride and by the looks of it they clipped a power wire,” he said.
“Then I heard the screams and looked out the window and heard it coming down. They sounded like screams of joy but they weren’t. It wasn’t coming from a great deal of height.
“I ran down the road to see if I could help but by that stage it was too late. It was just burned out. By the time the emergency services got there, there wasn’t much of a chance.”
Jacqui O’Connor, a nurse holidaying in the area, said she raced to the scene, dodging fallen power lines to reach the victims.
“There was live wire all over the people and the paddock,” she said.
The only victim publicly identified so far is the pilot and balloon owner, Lance Hopping.
He was safety officer for a regional ballooning event and was considered an experienced and safety-conscious pilot with more than 1,000 flying hours’ experience.
New Zealand Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said: “We are deeply sorry to learn of this tragic accident and our hearts go out to those who are now mourning the loss of life.”
An inquiry has been opened into the crash, and investigators have been at the scene. It is understood some of the bodies are badly burned.
Hot air ballooning is tightly governed in New Zealand with operators requiring special certification.
Two years ago, the civil aviation authority banned one company after “serious safety concerns” were uncovered in safety audits and spot checks.
The latest crash is the deadliest air disaster in New Zealand since 1963, when a DC-3 airliner crashed in the Kaimai Range, killing all 23 passengers and crew aboard.
In 1979, an Air New Zealand DC-10 airliner on a scenic flight slammed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 on board.