Glider pilot who died in crash named

Murray Philpott was a respected glider pilot who was well known in the community. Photo / File
Murray Philpott was a respected glider pilot who was well known in the community. Photo / File

Police have named the experienced glider pilot found dead among the wreckage of his aircraft northwest of Twizel on Sunday. He was Murray John Philpott, 55, formerly of Christchurch.

The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating.

The gliding community is mourning a well-respected pilot who was found dead among the wreckage of his aircraft northwest of Twizel last night.

Searchers found the wreckage of a glider in the Ben Ohau Range at 7pm yesterday. The glider took off from Omarama at 1pm the day before.

Gliding New Zealand executive committee member Nigel Davy spent most of the day in an aircraft searching for the missing glider and the "reasonably experienced'' pilot.

The wreckage was found in one of the areas first searched within a 50km radius of Omarama.

The crashed glider was missed on the first search because low cloud was covering the valley.

The gliding community was "frazzled'' but relieved the search was over, he said.

The sport was not dangerous but there were risks, he said.

"Flying through air and using lift sources to gain height is not going to be that easy on any given day [but] that's why people do it, because it's challenging.''

Flying conditions were reasonable on Saturday and other pilots had achieved "reasonable distances'', he said.

Gliding New Zealand president Karen Morgan, of Balclutha, said the gliding community was small and she knew the pilot in the crash.

"He was a well-respected member of the gliding community.

''The pilot was carrying a personal locator beacon, which is manually operated and was not activated. The glider was not fitted with an emergency location transmitter that would activate automatically."

Ms Morgan had an emergency location transmitter in her aircraft but an international frequency change a few years ago had made most of the technology obsolete.

Ms Morgan did not consider the sport dangerous. On average, statistically fewer than one person died a year in New Zealand when gliding, she said.

"It's a sport, like all sports, there is an element of risk - fishing, golf - all sports have their moments.''

The cause of the crash was unknown but a glider seldom failed mechanically.

"There is relatively little to go wrong in a glider. Most of us don't have motors, so that eliminates the common cause of incidents [with aircraft].''

New Zealand was home to 22 gliding clubs.

Ms Morgan said the gliding community in New Zealand had about 850 members.

Several members knew the man who had been killed.

"The gliding community is very saddened by what has happened," Ms Morgan said.

The clubs ranged in size from Clutha Valley Gliding Club to Glide Omarama, a large commercial enterprise operating "from one of the finest gliding sites in the world''.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman Vince Cholewa said the pilot was the only person in the glider.

The wreckage was found by one of eight aircraft searching.

At 8.20pm on Saturday, Omarama Gliding advised the Rescue co-ordination Centre New Zealand the glider was missing.

The centre began co-ordinating the search using an aircraft and took advantage of available light.

The cause of the crash was unknown and the accident has been referred to the Civil Aviation Authority.

The glider was self-launched using a small motor. On Saturday, the pilot made radio contact at 2.06pm and the glider was last sighted at 3.45pm flying north of Omarama.

Yesterday morning, the centre deployed six aircraft to search the area between Mt Cook and Roxburgh, about a 120km radius circle centred on Omarama.

Yesterday afternoon, two helicopters and a fixed wing aircraft joined the search.

Gliding New Zealand provided observers for the search aircraft and an adviser at the centre.

The search was difficult because the pilot had not left a flight plan and had not asked for flight following.

- Otago Daily Times

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