Cherie Howie

Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Night out with the boys saved man from Kaimai crash

Beth Okeby, 87, kept her husband's cancelled air ticket. Photo / Abby Dance
Beth Okeby, 87, kept her husband's cancelled air ticket. Photo / Abby Dance

A 50-year-old tall tale about how a table saved a man from death in the worst air disaster on New Zealand soil has been quashed by his widow.

Roger Okeby was the National Airways Corporation Tauranga branch manager when he cancelled his seat on a flight home from Auckland.

The decision saved his life when the National Airways Corporation DC-3 he was meant to be on crashed in the Kaimai Ranges, killing all 23 passengers and crew. It is the 50th anniversary of the crash on Wednesday.

Okeby told media at the time he cancelled his ticket because he wanted to buy a table.

Okeby died in the late 1980s aged 66, but his 87-year-old widow Beth told the Herald on Sunday this week that there was no table.

What really saved her husband was a late night out with colleagues, who were in Auckland for a conference.

"NAC used to be called the family airline. They all knew each other very well from being in the air force together during the war.

"It was always a very jovial affair and they were up very late.

"He told me he had to be at the airport at 7.30am and he thought in the morning, 'Actually, why do I have to be up so early?'

"So he cancelled and was saved."

Her husband discovered the plane was missing when he emerged from his hotel room later in the morning to shocked expressions on the faces of his work colleagues.

"They thought he was on the plane. They thought he was a ghost and they said, 'Are you really there'?"

She was told her husband was safe before she knew the plane was missing, an action she was thankful to be able to repeat for the couple's three teenage children.

"They heard about it the right way around."

The weeks following the crash were busy as her husband helped the families of those killed, she said.

He never reflected on his close call.

"It never upset him.

"He'd been in Bomber Command in World War II and had a lot of experience with planes crashing and people being killed."

- Herald on Sunday

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