Computer millionaire killed in air crash

By Elizabeth Binning, Louisa Cleave, Stuart Dye

The victim of a light plane crash that remained unnoticed for almost a day was one of New Zealand's most successful businessmen.

Russell Smith and his wife, Marian D'Eve, died when their Cessna 182 crashed into the sea off North Canterbury on Sunday afternoon.

Their bodies were discovered yesterday morning on a North Canterbury beach, just an hour after they were finally reported missing.

Dr Smith was the founder of Pulse Data, a company known internationally for its Braille and speech technology, screen-reading software and video-magnification solutions.

It has an annual turnover of around $50 million.

Ms D'Eve was an early childhood education specialist and author of a handbook for teachers.

The Canterbury couple had been at a weekend conference in Taupo.

On the flight home they refuelled at Nelson on Sunday, making their last transmission to Nelson's air traffic control before 2pm.

They were heading for the airstrip on their property at Aylesbury, west of Christchurch, and were due to land at 4.40pm.

Authorities are trying to find out what happened in the 18 hours between the couple leaving Nelson and their bodies being found, and why it took so long for a search to begin.

Rescue Co-ordination Centre spokesman Steve Corbett said a concerned friend or relative called Nelson Airport to report the small plane overdue about 8.30am yesterday.

The call was transferred to Christchurch Airport, then to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

Mr Corbett said the couple did not file a flight plan - it is not required by law - and that made it difficult to know where to start the search.

Plans to send a helicopter were hampered by low cloud and fog which hung around Canterbury for most of yesterday morning.

Just as staff tried to pinpoint a place to begin the search, Ms D'Eve's body was found about 9.40am by a person walking on Leithfield Beach.

Police were called and after a short search they found Dr Smith's body about 1km away.

Mr Corbett said once it was established the bodies had come from the plane the search and rescue mission was effectively finished.

By midday a wheel from a plane washed ashore at Amberley Beach, about 5km north of where the bodies were found. During the afternoon more wreckage was found along the coast, but the main fuselage had not been located last night.

Directors of the company founded by Dr Smith last night described him as a true pioneer whose death would be felt worldwide.

HumanWare chairman Timothy Robinson said the crash was a "massive shock" for everyone who knew the couple. He described Dr Smith as the "Bill Gates" of an industry that provided information technology for the blind and visually impaired.

HumanWare director Fran Wilde said Dr Smith was a true entrepreneur and an internationally recognised business leader.

The Civil Aviation Authority is sending two investigators to the scene.

- additional reporting: Stuart Dye, NZPA

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