Send off for selfless heroes

By Peter de Graaf of the Northern Advocate -
Friends, family members and colleagues gather at Maraewhiti Point for the ceremony. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Friends, family members and colleagues gather at Maraewhiti Point for the ceremony. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Two Far North men who lost their lives trying to save others have been remembered in a poignant ceremony on the Karikari Peninsula.

Department of Conservation ranger William Macrae and helicopter pilot John "Prickles" de Ridder died when their helicopter crashed into Karikari Bay during a search and rescue mission on the night of November 30, 2011.

The men had been flying reconnaissance over a serious fire when they were tasked with finding five people trapped between the advancing flames and the sea.

The five whanau members eventually managed to get into a dinghy and were picked up by a fishing boat.

On Friday more than 70 people gathered at Maraewhiti Point on the Karikari Peninsula, the closest point on land to the crash site, to mark the first anniversary of the men's deaths - and, more importantly, to celebrate their lives.

Among them were family members who had travelled the length of the country, the entire staff of DoC's Kaitaia office, senior firefighters from Rural Fire and the Fire Service's Muriwhenua area office, the owner of Salt Air, and members of Karikari hapu Te Whanau Moana and Te Rorohuri.

They drove over rough roads to a cluster of homes which had miraculously escaped the fire, then gathered on the beach for a blessing by Archdeacon Timoti Flavell and a moving welcome by Robert Brown, one of the five people the men had been trying to rescue that fateful night.

"I want to thank everyone for coming here to remember these two great men, who gave their lives trying to help others," Mr Brown said.

Mr Macrae's brother, Alan Macrae, recalled the conditions of a year earlier, when a similarly powerful wind was blowing but in the opposite direction, carrying thick clouds of smoke out over the bay.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about William - but at the same time I think of all the people who've put their arms out and helped us," he said.

Family members completed the ceremony by throwing wreaths into the sea from the rocks and from a boat over the crash site.

They gathered at Mr Macrae and Jenny Larson's home in Awanui on Friday evening to share a meal and their memories.

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