Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

MH17 car plate 'priceless piece of art': collector

Historical value worth more than money, says wealthy Massey buyer-collector

Russell Montaperto owns licence plate MH17. Photo / Jason Dorday
Russell Montaperto owns licence plate MH17. Photo / Jason Dorday

A man who bought a personalised plate bearing the flight number of downed Malaysia Airlines' jetliner MH17 says his purchase is a "priceless piece of art".

Massey delivery driver Russell Montaperto spent $650 for the plate a few days after the plane was shot down while flying over a region of Ukraine under the control of Russian separatists.

Australia-based Kiwi Mary Menke and British-born Otaki man Robert Ayley were among 298 killed in the atrocity.

Montaperto hasn't had the plate made yet, and was not sure when that would happen, but he had no doubt it was something he wanted.

"It's like a priceless piece of art. When people see that, it means something to them ... because it's part of history that has affected the whole world."

Russian rebels have are believed to have shot down the plane on July 17. Montaperto said if MH17 families were upset he would not display it and was willing to give it to them, or sell it to them at cost.

Montaperto owns two other personalised plates - America's Cup themed SEA NZ1 and SS70, for the Chevrolet Camaro, for which he received regular offers. He wasn't sure if there would be similar interest in his MH17 plate, but he had no plans to sell it in the short term.

"It has historical value. That to me is worth more than money in the bank. I don't need the money."

The owner of a dozen investment properties, he needed neither to work nor to sell the plate to support himself, Montaperto said.

If he had the plate made he would likely include writing above saying "Airline flight", and below "lest we forget".

"I thought of that because ... when you saw [the Dutch military] carrying the coffins from the [military] plane, it just reminds you of the Anzacs. It makes you think on life in a different perspective when you see those people on the flight. I've seen a couple of photos of [victims] and they're still in their chairs. They're nothing now, they're gone.

"Life is really unfair to some people. When I look at [coverage of the disaster] I think, 'Why did I buy that plate, if I don't like looking at things like that'? But it's in safe hands with me."

Montaperto is not the first person to buy a personalised plate connected to a tragic event. Two plates bearing the number of Malaysia Airlines ghost flight MH370 were sold after the Boeing 777 vanished in March. No trace of the plane, which was also carrying two Kiwis, has been found.

Mr Plates director Bruno Szajer, who runs a website that trades thousands of number plates in New Zealand and Australia, has previously said the sale of plates related to world events was common.

Transport Agency spokesman Andrew Knackstedt said personalised plates were not issued if they promoted violence, discrimination, bias, illegal substances or activities, or encouraged unsafe driving. They could not be derogatory to police or public figures, breach intellectual property rights or contain bad language.

- Herald on Sunday

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