Raglan in mourning for 'action' brothers

By PAUL YANDALL

Raglan people woke yesterday to the news that two of their favourite sons had perished in a helicopter crash in rugged high country near the coastal town.

Gone were brothers Kevin Barry Lee, a 35-year-old Telecom technician, and Gregory Francis Lee, a 38-year-old fisherman.

They were among four men killed when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed on Mt Karioi on Tuesday.

Helicopter pilot David John Logan, 39, of Cambridge, and Glenn William Phillips, 34, a non-sworn Hamilton police information technology technician, also died.

Three of the four were on the job, testing a handful of radio repeater stations on the mountain, one of which was used by the police. Gregory Lee had gone along for the ride.

The single-engined Squirrel helicopter went down on the southeast side of Mt Karioi, not far below its 765m summit.

For the fast-growing but still close-knit town of 3000, the deaths of the popular Lee brothers hit hard.

Born and bred in the often-proclaimed "Surf Capital of New Zealand," the two men spent their lives experiencing all the outdoor living Raglan could offer them.

Between them, the brothers were members of the local coastguard rescue service, the game-fishing club, keen kayakers, huntsmen, rafters and climbers.

They seemed to have lived a dozen lives.

Almost every second person in the town knows the brothers or one of the extended Lee family.

The pair left behind parents Bill and Glena and brother Robbie, as well as Gregory's partner, Karryn Gerbich, and their 6-week-old daughter, Charlie.

A local fisherman and friend of the brothers, Aaron Laboyrie, said: "I don't think it's really sunk in yet. They were just such excellent guys."

Gregory was employed by Raukura Moana Fisheries and worked on Mr Laboyrie's fishing boat as a deckhand.

But after work Gregory, nicknamed "Action," was into a huge range of sports, said Mr Laboyrie.

Karryn Gerbich spoke through her brother, Terry Gerbich. "It's going to leave such a big hole in her life," he said.

"She loved Greg very much and she loved Kevin as part of the family."

Mark Lloyd, a close friend of the brothers, said the pair would do chopper work in the morning, "and try to sneak back early to go kayaking or rafting."

"Kevin got to kayak Huka Falls four months ago. He always wanted to do it. At least he got it in before this."

Outside the Raglan police station yesterday Inspector Kelvin Powell said a full investigation was under way into exactly what happened on Tuesday, and when.

Mr Powell had initially said that the police were notified at midday of the missing helicopter, which left Raglan at 9.30 am and was due to return an hour later. Yesterday, he said the notification came "probably closer to 2.30 pm."

"From what my people say the time delay did not make any difference to the outcome."

All four are thought to have died on impact.

The wreckage of the helicopter was finally found about 6 pm. The locater beacon it was carrying was not on and this was being investigated, said Mr Powell.

Mr Logan's parents, John and Iris, said their pilot son was known for keeping his equipment in top condition. David was born and raised in Cambridge and ran his business, Heliwork.

"He was extremely cautious and vigilant in all he did in his flying. He was most fastidious," said Mr Logan.

Glenn Phillips' widow, Steph, said he was worried about flying in helicopters.

"He couldn't stand flying in those [helicopters]. He would say he sat near the window, just in case."

Mr Phillips left behind Steph and their two children, son Troy, 4, and daughter Tyla, 3.

"He was just an awesome dad, a real father to the kids," Mrs Phillips said. "He was just so loved by everyone, especially the kids."

Three investigators from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission were winched down to the crash scene about midday yesterday to inspect the site.

The investigator in charge of the case, John Goddard, said they would try to piece together what had happened.

The bodies of the four victims remained on the mountain where they were found while the investigators worked, but were airlifted out about 3 pm.

Autopsies began late in the afternoon at Waikato Hospital.

Tuesday's fatal air crash was the second in less than a month and the third in a year involving a Squirrel helicopter.

But Mr Goddard said the Squirrel was "a good, well-proven helicopter."

Although 10 people have died in the past 11 months in Squirrel crashes, Civil Aviation Authority spokeswoman Emma Peel said it was not drawing any links between the accidents.

Tuesday's accident was less than a month after the death of Warkworth pilot Gary Matthewson, whose Squirrel crashed near Wellsford while he was spraying crops.

There are 66 Squirrels registered in New Zealand out of a total helicopter fleet of 419. They have been involved in eight of 82 helicopter accidents since the start of 1997.

"We are extremely concerned when any aircraft crashes," said Emma Peel.

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