Thursday, January 31, 2013

Air tragedy: Father finds son's wreckage

The scene of the crash

Police at the scene of a microlight crash near Westport.

A father who found the wreckage of a microlight in which his son and another man were killed says his son knew the risks of flying and "you can't cover your kids up in cotton wool". 

West Coast man Peter Ashby went in search of his son Cole, 25, yesterday morning, after receiving a call that he and pilot Roger Smith, 58, were overdue.

He found the wreckage - and Mr Smith's body - on Carters Beach, not far from the Ashby family home.

Cole was found dead about a kilometre away - believed to have been swept from the crash site by the tide.

The crash occurred on Wednesday night.

Peter Ashby said his son was an adventurous young man who died while making the most of his life.

"When you play with fire, you expect to get burned," Mr Ashby said last night. "You know the risks and that's just where it ends.

"It's one of those things ... you can't cover your kids up in cotton wool. [I told Cole] make the most of life, and he did."

Mr Ashby said Mr Smith had been "well renowned for his flying".

"They wouldn't do anything stupid or dangerous. It makes me wonder if it was the engine that malfunctioned because he was a good flyer and he wouldn't fly into fog."

Fog had drifted over Westport unexpectedly on Wednesday evening. The duo had started their flight in fine weather.

West Coast search and rescue co-ordinator Sergeant Sean Judd said police were interviewing several people who might have heard or seen the aircraft before it crashed.

There was conflicting information, but an indication that the microlight was seen flying near Carters Beach about 9.10pm on Wednesday.

Mr Ashby said the family were close and his son had many friends who had offered their condolences.

Some visited the family home yesterday to share a beer and memories of the young man.

"Cole was a full-on sort of guy. He loved to do stuff. He wasn't a sit-at-home-and-watch-television guy.

"Motocross, snowboarding, wakeboarding, skiing, drift cars - he'd do anything that was adventurous. He was adventurous but he wasn't stupid."

He worked hard as a machine operator at Stockton opencast mine and spent every weekend he could spending time with his dad.

"Always we used to go shooting and fishing, camping and skiing. Every weekend, whenever he had time off. He was a very special boy."

Buller Mayor Pat McManus said the men were well known in the community and Mr Smith, whom he knew personally, had been flying for "quite some time".

"[I heard the news] just straight off the street, as you often do in Westport. Sometimes it's true and sometimes it's not. Sadly this time it was true," Mr McManus said.

The mayor said the community was in shock at the news. "It's just another sad event for the West Coast," he said.

The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the crash and has taken the wreckage for examination.

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