The elderly man killed in a light plane crash at Matamata Aerodrome this morning has been described as an aviation enthusiast, a brilliant pilot and a safety-conscious man who was loved by all who knew him.
His scale replica warbird plane crashed shortly after 11am. Emergency services attended the crash, but despite paramedics' best efforts to resuscitate the pilot, he died at the scene.
It's believed the deceased pilot, a Morrinsville local in his eighties, was likely heading out for a morning ride in the skies in a three-quarter scale version of the World War II P-51D Mustang he had built himself.
Police confirmed no one else was in the plane at the time of the crash.
New Zealand Aviation chief executive Mitchell Coombe said the local man, who he'd known for about four years was well-known in the community and was survived by his wife and children.
"He was a very close friend... highly experienced and just passionate," he said. "A passionate pilot who lives and breathes aviation."
Coombe said the keen flyer had been an active member of the airfield and aeroclub for at least two decades. He had also been well known in Morrinsville, having run a number of small businesses, including a milking machine store, a dairy and a green grocers.
Coombe said the plane was the pilot's "baby".
"The aeroplane, he built it himself, it was just his baby and quite often he just flew for the sake of flying."
As far as Coombe was aware, the elderly gentleman was heading to the skies on one of his regular flights.
He said no-one had witnessed the accident, but that the way in which it appeared to have nose-dived at the other end of the airfield, indicated a mechanical failure.
"It's completely speculation, but it looks to us like it was a freak accident that happened on take-off," he said. "You don't nose-dive at the other end without a mechanical failure of some sort.
"Purely speculation again, but his age would have definitely made it less survivable for him."
A nearby resident said he didn't see the crash, but heard it. "I heard it alright. It was a crazy sound."
A neighbour of the aerodrome, who did not want to be named, said the air craft had just taken off.
"I heard him take off and the engine stopped and then a thump."
The craft had risen only about 20 metres off the ground before the engine stopped, he said.
Cessna pilots who had been practising take-offs and landings were already by the craft when the neighbour ran over to help.
The door was jammed and he helped prise the door of the plane open with the handle of a car jack which someone grabbed from a car.
"The man was slumped over and looked like he had hit his head on the cock pit," the neighbour said.
"He was crunched over... He hit his head on the dashboard. He had a head trauma."
The man was unresponsive and the neighbour said it was hard to tell if he was breathing because they had been told not to move him.
Police and St John paramedics arrived at the scene and pulled the man out of the plane.
Some motorists driving along State Highway 27 beside the airfield also saw the crash and stopped to help, the neighbour said.
Coombe said the community was devastated at the loss of such a dedicated pilot.
"When these unfortunate accidents do happen, it really does knock us hard and our students and staff," he said. "We've just grouped together as a community to just help each other to work through it."
Coombe couldn't say what plans were underway to pay tribute to the local pilot, but said it would be "very, very big".
The Civil Aviation Authority will be investigating the cause of the crash.
At 2pm today a number of emergency crew and CAA staff remained at the scene.
A hearse was also spotted and the craft remained cordoned off on a section of the airfield.