Tributes paid to microlight crash victims

By Ben Aulakh of the Westport News

The scene of the accident. Photo / Westport News
The scene of the accident. Photo / Westport News

The pilot of a microlight that crashed on Wednesday night, killing two men, has has been described as a fun-loving family man.

Roger Smith, 58, is believed to have been flying the Bantam B22S model aircraft when it crashed at Carters Beach near Westport.

Cole Ashby, 25, also died in the crash.

The pair had taken off from the Westport airport, a couple of kilometres away, about three hours earlier.

Both men worked at Stockton opencast mine. Mr Smith was also a union representative.

A spokesman for the Smith family said his life was about those closest to him.

"He was very much a family man and he loved his family. He had three lovely daughters and sons-in-law, he had lovely grandchildren.

"He was such a great guy and a loving husband. He had a large number of brothers and sisters.

"He was just a very good friend. Everyone on the Coast knew him, because of his flying.''

The spokesman also said Mr Smith was a very capable pilot, with many years' experience.

"He just maintained that plane to within an inch of its life. He certainly wouldn't have put anyone's life in danger because he took the grandchildren up at times.

"Overall, it's just such a tragedy.''

Mr Smith, who worked as a shot firer for Stockton mine contractor Kaipara, enjoyed telling his grandchildren that he loved "blowing things up''.

"He teased the kids, his whole family, he was just an absolute fun-loving joker.''

Cole Ashby was a machine operator at Stockton mine.

His body was found a kilometre further down the beach. Police suspect it might have been washed there by the tide.

Mr Ashby said last night that his son was an adventurous young man who died while making the most of his life.

"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.

Mr Ashby said the microlight was last heard flying past Larsen Street at Cape Foulwind at 9.10pm on Wednesday.

Westport police search and rescue co-ordinator Sean Judd said police were still looking at what effect fog might have had on the crash.

"A lot of our enquiries today, and certainly with the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] will be to ascertain fog conditions - where they were, at what time it came in, whereabouts from.''

It was almost dark when the microlight was last heard in the air. Mr Judd said the aircraft was not equipped for night flying or a night landing.

Police were still investigating whether either of the men had mobile phones or radios with them. They had made no contact with anyone on the ground while they were airborne.

So far the only communication device which had been found with the wreckage was an emergency locator beacon. Mr Judd said it had not been activated.

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