JONATHON HOWE - CHIEF OF STAFF
OPINION: It was interesting to see that a friend of doctor Ralph Saxe, who died along with chiropractor Brett Ireland in a plane crash at Feilding's Timona Park, publicly rule out pilot error as a factor.
Fellow pilot Neil Jepsen blamed a mechanical fault when he spoke to more than 500 mourners at Dr Saxe's funeral at the Taonui Aerodrome, which the two men left on their fateful flight on the morning of January 23.
His comments forced the Civil Aviation Authority to issue a statement confirming that a "stubby type screwdriver'' found in the wreckage ``may have rendered the aircraft unflyable''.
There was an outpouring of grief from the Manawatu community after the death of Dr Saxe who was, by all accounts, a sympathetic and caring practitioner.
The heartbreaking words of Dr Saxe's loved ones, spoken through intermediaries at the funeral, also conveyed the deep sorrow caused by his loss.
So it was no doubt comforting for friends and family to hear that the crash may have been caused by factors out of his control.
But as we have seen from other fatal plane crashes in the region, including the mid-air collision that claimed the life of flying instructor Jessica Neeson in 2010, it can take a long time before any comprehensive conclusions are reached.
CAA investigators pore over the evidence and wreckage for months before issuing a hefty tome of findings.
Add to this the coronial process, and it can often be an agonising wait for families desperate for answers.
But to absolve Dr Saxe of any wrongdoing before it has been definitively proven could make it even harder on his family if the investigation consequently uncovers any error on his part.
Witnesses have spoken about the movements of the plane on the morning of the crash, with some saying it was performing aerobatic manoeuvres.
CAA regulations state that aerobatic flights may not be performed within 600 feet of a settlement or an open assembly of people.
Dr Saxe had an aerobatic license but it has not been confirmed whether the plane was performing any manoeuvres.
The flying levels before the crash have also been questioned. CAA regulations require pilots to maintain a level of at least 1000 feet while flying over built-up areas, but again this is under review.
Mr Jepsen can perhaps be forgiven for undermining the investigation, especially if the intention was to make things easier for Dr Saxe's family.
But even if Dr Saxe is found to be at fault, it should have no effect on the respect and admiration that the Manawatu community had for him as a doctor, pilot and man.