Agony for chopper pilot Steve Askin's family, who died fighting Christchurch fires

By Gabrielle Stuart

An injured Steve Askin on June 29, 2011, after Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AFP
An injured Steve Askin on June 29, 2011, after Taliban suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo / AFP

Paul Askin has spent many years fearing terrible news about his son Steve.

On Tuesday, that moment came when police arrived to tell him Steve had been killed in a helicopter crash while he was fighting the Port Hills fires, the Christchurch Star reports.

The cause of the crash, which happened near Sugarloaf, is being investigated by police, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission.

Steve Askin, 37, died leaving his wife, Elizabeth, and children, aged 7 and 4.

He was a military hero, awarded a NZ Gallantry Star for his bravery while fighting for the SAS in Afghanistan in 2014.

He had his ear shot off while rescuing hotel guests during a five-hour shootout against the Taliban.

Paul Askin said Steve was the kind of person it was easy to be proud of.

"I always thought if I was a hostage being held somewhere like that, I would want boys like him coming to my rescue. Somebody's kid has got to do it," Paul said.

He said Steve always wanted to do something worthwhile with his life.

His last conversation with his son was on Monday night, as they chatted while Steve cooked the family's dinner.

Midway through Steve got the call about the fire, warning he could be called up to fight it.

He was an experienced pilot for Way To Go Heliservices, but usually did agricultural work.

Paul said Steve was excited about being able to help, and left soon after the call to make sure the helicopters were ready to go.

"He loved fighting fires, it was the best part of flying, for him," Paul said.

The next morning, Paul heard him leave at dawn.

Steve called his wife from the helicopter later that day.

When Paul got home later that afternoon, he said he heard there had been a helicopter crash.

He called the hangar, and was told it was one of their choppers.

"I thought, 'if the cops turn up, that will be him'."

A police car arrived soon afterward, and he said he knew his son was dead the minute he saw it.

He said Steve was courageous, generous, a great storyteller, an adventurer, a mischief-maker, and had the cheekiest smile.

Steve spent almost all his free time with his family, and was very close to his brothers and two sisters.

Steve met his wife, Elizabeth, through family friends, and they went on their first date in a helicopter around Banks Peninsula.

"I think Steve tried to scare her, but she was not easily scared," Paul said.

The family gathered yesterday, and he said there had been many stories shared.

Steve's brother-in-law shared the last conversation they had, where Steve advised him to live more frugally and spend more time with his family.

"He inspired people to do great things - although some things were also pretty stupid," Paul said.

Steve left the army two years ago to spend more time with his family, and Paul said he missed the sense of adventure and close relationships he had in the army.

"But Steve found there was a kind of success and thrill in seeing your kids grow and blossom, and he took a lot of satisfaction from that," he said.

He said the whole family were still struggling to come to terms with what had happened.

"We've got a hell of a mountain to climb, but the only way up is together," he said.

"The best tribute we can pay to Steve is to love his kids and his wife."

A Givealittle page has been set up.

By Gabrielle Stuart, Christchurch Star

- NZ Herald

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