Hero chopper pilot Steve Askin man of faith, love, courage, says father

By Melissa Nightingale

Steve Askin with his wife Elizabeth Askin. Photo/Givealittle
Steve Askin with his wife Elizabeth Askin. Photo/Givealittle

'Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you," are the words engraved on the casket of chopper pilot Steve Askin.

The former SAS member died while helping fight the out-of-control blaze at the Port Hills in Christchurch on February 14.

The Bible verse on his casket, from Matthew 6:33, was one of the many engravings, including a copy of the tattoo on Steve's back, on his casket.

"These were God's words to him that he was mulling over for weeks," father Paul Askin said.

Steve Askin's casket was decorated with images that were important to him. Photo / Tomo Reed
Steve Askin's casket was decorated with images that were important to him. Photo / Tomo Reed

"There are a number of things engraved on the casket. One was the tattoo. He had a big tattoo right across his back. The cross is at the centre of this design."

Steve, 38, died when the helicopter he was using to fight the massive fire crashed.

He was a member of the New Zealand Special Air Service (NZSAS), the elite army special forces unit. He remained an active member of the SAS reserves and was considered a humble and selfless decorated war hero.

"Steve was a person who we loved and respected, and valued his integrity, his honesty, his loyalty, his courage," Paul said.

A good friend from the army had used the words "endless love and courage" to describe Steve, Paul said.

"If I was going to add a word I would say service. He was always someone who served."

In Afghanistan, Steve served to work towards a country where "little girls could walk down the street safely, unconcerned", Paul said.

He was serving to restore "normality and justice to people who had been totally abused".

"He was a man of faith, but faith isn't about being perfect," Paul said.

"It's important that people know he was a real human being, warts and all. It's easy for dead heroes to become something they weren't in life, and we don't want that."

Steve Askin died while helping fight the out-of-control blaze at the Port Hills in Christchurch on February 14. File photo
Steve Askin died while helping fight the out-of-control blaze at the Port Hills in Christchurch on February 14. File photo

Paul said Steve was "no cardboard cut-out cartoon hero".

"He was a hero, but not in that way. He was no saint sitting on a cloud with a halo."

Steve, who has left behind his wife Elizabeth and children Isabelle, 7, and Bowie, 4, was farewelled by loved ones in a funeral on Monday, which Paul said was "an amazing celebration of Steve's life".

"Everybody just helped us enormously at an incredibly tough time. I think we had a real celebration of his life and what he meant.

"As a family we were honest about our pain and we were also honest about our faith and our hope.

"My wife said at his funeral, 'let's all be heroes, wherever we are'. I thought what she said was so good. Some heroes hit the headlines, sometimes, like Steve, for all the wrong reasons. But if we're all heroes, that's a great world to live in."

The family members were feeling "pretty numb" now.

"It's that time where the funeral's over and we're finding our way back into the new normality. We're coping as best we can."

The family had been "stunned" by the response to a Givealittle page set up after the tragedy, which has so far raised more than $370,000 for Steve's wife and children.

Paul said the public's donations "says a lot about New Zealand and the kind of country that we New Zealanders want to be a part of. It makes you proud to be a Kiwi."

Paul said he had countless special memories of his time with Steve, including one night several years ago when the pair went out hunting in the hills in the dead of night.

"I just loved being out in the hills with my son. Being out with Steve was just magic."

Other fond memories included sitting around a table eating together, as the two families lived in adjoining houses on a rural section.

They were cooking dinner together the day before Steve died.

"We were yarning and he was happy."

Steve's phone went off: there was a fire in the Port Hills. It wasn't long before Steve was off to the hangar to prepare in case he was called to help fight the fire.

"That's my last time I ever spoke to him," Paul said. "He went off to fight the fire."

Early the next morning Paul heard him driving out again for the last time.

"I knew he was off to get the machine in the air at first light, and back in the battle."

- NZ Herald

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