William "MacGyver" Macrae - make or fix anything

By Peter de Graaf

The ranger who died in a helicopter crash during last week's devastating fire at Karikari Peninsula was a perfectionist who could make or fix almost anything.

Department of Conservation ranger William "MacGyver" Macrae, of Awanui, and pilot John "Prickles" de Ridder, of Kerikeri, died on Wednesday when their chopper plunged into the sea off Karikari Beach. They had been flying reconnaissance over the fire when it is thought they tried to go to the aid of five people trapped between the beach and the advancing flames.

Fellow DoC ranger Trevor Bullock said his best friend always had the right tool for the job, and if he didn't, he'd make one.

The pair met in the mid-1980s when William volunteered for the Kaitaia Field Base firefighting team. Originally employed as a mechanic he had a series of contracts with DoC before joining as a staff member in 1995.

He soon earned the nickname MacGyver, after the TV series, for his ability to fix or make almost anything. His inventions helped build the North Cape predator fence; he also invented and built the marine mammal lifting frames used in last year's whale strandings at Karikari Beach and Spirits Bay.

Trevor said his friend was a perfectionist by nature. "There was one way to do things and then there was William's way ... But if you learnt his way, it stood you in good stead. You came away with great skills."

He was a loyal workmate, a conscientious staff member and "a bloody good mate", he said.

His brother Alan recalled his passion for hunting, skill as a gunsmith, and cheeky sense of humour.

When Alan was having trouble hitting his targets with a new gun, William took him out to practise spotlighting for possums. They saw a possum in a tree but Alan could not dislodge it, however many shots he fired. Each time William scolded him for missing and urged him to try again. Eventually, unable to hold back his laughter, William confessed he had shot the possum three days earlier and stuck it in the tree.

Alan said his brother was a "rough diamond".

"He was famous for being blunt. You had to see through the surface because underneath was pure gold."

William leaves his partner Jenny, son Samuel, daughters Ellyse and Shauna, son-in-law Paul and grandsons Kyle and Daniel.

Mr Macrae's funeral was to be held at 10am today at Paparore Marae, Awanui, followed by burial at Waipapakauri Cemetery at 11am. His body was taken to the marae yesterday from the family's home on a DoC firefighting truck. "I think he would have liked that," DoC spokeswoman Carolyn Smith said.

However, he may have been less impressed by the baling twine used to secure his coffin. As a perfectionist with a knack for invention, he would have designed and made a bracket to do the job perfectly, she said.

The details of Mr de Ridder's funeral were still being finalised. The family has asked for donations to the Kerikeri Fire Brigade instead of flowers.


- Northern Advocate

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