A widely respected pilot who died after his plane plunged into Lake Taupo in front of crowds of summer holidaymakers had repaired it with sticky tape just hours before the crash.
John Borman, a New Zealand fixed-wing formation flying representative, was seriously injured and later died after the kitset amphibious plane he had spent thousands of hours building flipped and crashed at Lake Taupo. His wife Noeleen, the only passenger, suffered facial injuries and concussion.
In a just-released report, Civil Aviation Authority safety inspector Tom McCready found Borman, 60, had used strips of sticky tape to repair the nose landing gear doors and locker hatch of the high-performance Seawind after they were damaged when the plane struck a boat's wake during an earlier take-off attempt. A ball end in the retraction mechanism was also broken. "After that damage, the aircraft was technically and legally unserviceable," the report says.
Even so, Borman made three more attempts to get the plane airborne, declining offers from several aircraft engineers to help repair the damage.
Instead, he fitted a replacement ball end part and strapped a folded "Danger" sign, from a construction site, over the damaged nose-wheel doors, using a single piece of sticky tape on each side. He also secured the nose locker hatch, which had been blown off by the impact, with tape.
Said McCready's report: "This method of securing the hatch is even more remarkable, given the aircraft design, with the propeller immediately above and behind the cabin... severe propeller damage would have been likely if the hatch had [broken away] during flight."
While the plane was not deemed airworthy, the precise reason for it crashing during the fourth take-off attempt could not be determined. The report said Borman may have made several uncharacteristic decisions in order to get home to Tauranga.
It said Borman had previously used sticky tape to repair damage on another Seawind before a successful land-based take-off and may have "gained confidence" from that.
While Borman was experienced - he had flown here and in the United States and had accomplished more than 200 water landings - neither he nor his wife were wearing lifejackets. "If it hadn't been for the prompt intervention of bystanders, a second fatality may have been likely," said McCready's report.
Borman, who was trapped in the cockpit of the plane and died a day after the crash in 2005, and Noeleen were rescued by Taupo boatie Tony Landl and his son Jan.
Tony Landl later received a medal and citation from the Royal Humane Society, and he and his son were also recognised by police. "It was our duty to get him out and give him a go at surviving," said Tony Landl last year. "You just did it."
The accident report also noted that the maintenance of homebuilt aircraft involved a different set of skills from building and assembling them.
While homebuilders might be able to construct a plane, maintenance was often overlooked.
Noeleen Borman yesterday described the report as fair. She defended her husband's actions, saying she trusted him 100 per cent. The sticky tape, she said, had nothing to do with the accident. "That is what we did at the time, it was the only way of attaching the sign to the underneath of the plane. All the sign did was stop the water entering the wheel well of the plane. We lifted off the water but we hit a boat wake."
However, McCready's report said the aircraft was not airworthy and that before the accident, three experienced and respected homebuilder/pilots, including John Borman, were faced with repairing the damaged plane. "They may have developed a mindset of what is commonly referred to in the aviation industry as 'get-home-itis'.
"This is a situation in which normally conservative and capable engineers and pilots bend to the pressure of getting the aircraft home and make uncharacteristic decisions."