THE father of the youngest man killed in the hot-air balloon tragedy in New Zealand says he hopes his son and girlfriend were the pair who jumped - rather than burning to death in the basket.
Chrisjan Jordaan, 21, and his girlfriend Alexis Still, 19, were on board the balloon which caught fire and plummeted to the ground in Carterton on Saturday.
A man and a woman reportedly jumped or fell from the basket before it was completely engulfed in flames and Chrisjan's father, Jan, hopes they were his son and Alexis.
"The thought of my son burning alive is bad, man, very, very bad.
"On the internet it said he and Alexis jumped out, but the police said they can't confirm it. I hope he didn't burn to death, it would have been a very, very horrible death.
"I try to block it out but it still comes, the thought of it. To hear what happened was unreal, it's still unreal."
Mr Jordaan and his wife, Annie, were yesterday travelling to Wellington from their home in Southland, where he is a dairy farmer and she is a teacher, to make funeral arrangements and to visit the site of New Zealand's worst aviation tragedy since the 1979 Mt Erebus disaster.
"Because the bodies are not yet identified, officially, we're not sure what to do for the funeral," he said.
Chrisjan bought the balloon-flight ticket for Alexis last year. They had tried to go twice previously, but those flights were postponed because of poor weather. They were hugely excited when the weather forecast for Saturday was good.
Mr Jordaan suspected his son was very much in love with Alexis.
"But he promised no marriage before his studies were finished."
Alexis lived at home with parents Vivienne and Allan Still and sister Emma, 24. Brother Ben, 22, flats in Wellington.
The family's elderly dog, Abby, knew something was amiss - she spent Saturday night sleeping in Alexis's wardrobe.
Mrs Still said yesterday she heard her "dream" daughter get up early on Saturday, and later texted her telling her to have fun.
"I should have got up and given her a cuddle because I was awake. I was just excited for her," she said.
Mr Still said Chrisjan spoiled his daughter, and the family was comforted by the fact they died together.
"I couldn't imagine if one of them lost the other one," Emma said.
"They were really, really tight," Mrs Still added.
"He won her heart, which was really hard because she had a lot of boys after her but she just said 'no, I don't have time for that'."
The family is hugely proud of a daughter who touched many people in many ways.
At 19, she was counselling younger children. She was involved in her church's youth group, had been on a mission to Africa and was saving to visit orphanages in Cambodia and Vietnam.
Alexis met Chrisjan, from South Africa, through the Arise Church and he also went on the mission - although they did not become a couple until after returning to Wellington.
Last year she studied nursing and journalism at Massey University, and planned to eventually nurse in third world countries and write about her experiences.
The 2010 mission took her to Malawi and Mozambique, where she visited villages in which World Vision was working.
The Still family had sponsored children through World Vision for years, but Alexis wanted to do more, so she sponsored a child herself.
That little boy, Precious, had just sent her a picture he had drawn.
"The last night we were together, she was so excited about the picture he had sent her and said he was going to be such an artist. She was so excited about him," Mrs Still said.
Chrisjan Jordaan's family came to New Zealand from the town of Randfontein in South Africa in 2004 and Chrisjan went to school in Invercargill before moving to Wellington to study architecture.
After his first year at university he took a break to study the Bible and to volunteer for the Arise Church in Wellington and in 2010 he went on the aid mission to Africa, where he got to know Alexis.
The trip inspired him to become a missionary, and he and Alexis intended to eventually travel to third world countries to do humanitarian work together.
"He was a very nice boy, very self sufficient and was a great son," said Mr Jordaan.
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