Couple recall little of fatal 'Rings' plane crash

By Timothy Brown

Erik Hoffmann, inset, says he has no recollection of the crash which killed pilot Ray Crow. Photo / ODT
Erik Hoffmann, inset, says he has no recollection of the crash which killed pilot Ray Crow. Photo / ODT

An American couple remember little of a Lord of the Rings sightseeing flight which ended in tragedy in Central Otago.

Texans Sarah (31) and Erik (35) Hoffmann remain in Dunedin Hospital nine days after the crash, which killed Queenstown pilot Raymond Crow.

''I really don't remember the accident at all - it's just gone,'' Mrs Hoffmann said from her hospital bed yesterday.

''I can remember very little.

''It was a wonderful flight. We were having a great time. The scenery was spectacular and Ray was so knowledgeable about The Lord of the Rings.

''It was just a beautiful day.''

Investigators are still piecing together the moments which led to the Glenorchy Air Piper Cherokee crashing just north of the Poolburn Reservoir on August 5.

And so are the couple from Houston, Texas.

Mrs Hoffmann remembers stopping for lunch - ''we had some sandwiches'' - but little after that.

''Next thing I remember is lying on the ground outside the plane and holding my phone and trying to remember what the emergency number was for New Zealand.''

Her memory became foggy after she phoned emergency services and she could only recall ''morphine-clouded memories of waking up in hospital''.

The couple were flown to Dunedin Hospital in a serious condition. Mr Crow died at the scene from his injuries.

''It was when we got to the hospital that they told us Ray had died,'' Mrs Hoffmann said, holding back tears.

''I was sitting behind Ray, so I guess Ray got the worst of it.''

While she could not remember the crash or what caused it, she was confident it was mechanical.

''Ray seemed so competent; I can't imagine it was him.''

The couple got to know Mr Crow in the hours they spent with him before the crash.

''He was so easy to talk to,'' Mrs Hoffmann said.

''He seemed to really enjoy showing everything to people,'' she said.

The day after the crash she awoke and recalled feeling ''very lucky'' to be alive.

''The first day we woke up and I was so grateful that we were both going to make it and so sad that Ray wasn't,'' she said.

She had shattered a vertebra and her left heel and Mr Hoffmann had damaged vertebrae and injured ligaments in his neck.

Mr Hoffmann was still groggy and exhausted from the crash.

Mrs Hoffmann said her husband also could not remember the crash and his last memory was of Mr Crow telling him they were flying low over a landing strip to scatter cows that had gathered on it.

The pair were expected to make a full recovery in the next few weeks, she said.

''Erik might recover a bit before I do, but we have made it clear we are going to stick together until we get home,'' she said.

The couple came to New Zealand after visiting Sydney for Mr Hoffmann's sister's wedding.

The couple, who met while studying at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, were both geologists and wanted to view the scenery they had seen on The Lord of the Rings - as they were both fans.

''We knew one thing we wanted to do was take some tours of the sites where they shot Lord of the Rings,'' she said.

Despite the crash, the couple would still take home fond memories of their holiday.

''It's [New Zealand] as beautiful as everyone said. We are going to have to come back.''

Her mother, Lyn Greene, flew into Dunedin on Tuesday to offer the couple support. Her mother's presence had brought solace, as had the support of the community, Mrs Hoffmann said.

''We have had a lot of people offer help and support ... It's been great.''

''I would like to thank New Zealand for being so hospitable to us.

''The nurses, the doctors, everybody has been wonderful.''

- Otago Daily Times

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