Stephen Robert HOPKIRK was the fourth child of Robert Douglas (Bob) HOPKIRK & MerleStephen Robert HOPKIRK was born in 7 January 1962 in New Zealand
After looking into the eyes of four men fighting to save
fellow balloon passengers before all 11 died, a witness is convinced they
deserve bravery awards.
Sitting stunned on January 7, 2012, after the Carterton balloon tragedy unfolded above her, Leanne Brown promised herself she would never talk publicly about the things she saw. "It's something private for these people who I saw in their last moments."
Now, disappointed that those passengers' bravery was not highlighted in last week's coronial inquest, she has decided to break her silence.
Brown was not asked to give evidence at the inquest, despite being one of the accident's nearest witnesses. She tended Chrisjan Jordaan and Alexis Still, who died in her paddock after leaping from the balloon while it was caught on powerlines beside her home, before it ignited, broke free then crashed nearby. The other eight passengers and pilot Lance Hopping were also killed.
Brown was outside her Somerset Rd home when the balloon passed low overhead. Seeing it caught on high voltage wires on her boundary, she stood below, some 15 metres away, trying desperately to think of how to help.
She saw passengers Howard Cox and Desmond Dean beside Hopping, trying to help pull the wire free. Brown thinks they must have climbed into Hopping's separate compartment to do so, moving closer to the obvious danger.
"At any point they might [have been] electrocuted; that takes great bravery," she said.
There was a "flash of white light" as electricity arced, igniting the basket. The men saw the flames but kept working: "The look on their faces wasn't panic, it was one of determination."
Cox, Dean and Hopping leaned out, trying to beat out the flames. Then she saw all three men die.
She heard passenger Stephen Hopkirk giving directions calmly, and saw him push his partner Belinda Harter, Dean's wife Ann, Cox's wife Diana, Still, Jordaan and fellow passengers Valerie Bennett and Denise Dellabarca away from the blaze.
He shielded them and stamped on flames, she said. "I yelled out, ‘My God, your only hope is to jump'."
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This page was last updated on 26 May 2014