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Shandelle Battersby: Love at first flight

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Shandelle Battersby remembers how a famous NZ racing driver sparked her love of flying.

Shandelle Battersby inherited her love of flying from family friend Chris Amon. Photo / 123RF
Shandelle Battersby inherited her love of flying from family friend Chris Amon. Photo / 123RF

When I think of Chris Amon, it's not cars that spring to mind, it's planes.

I was on the other side of the world in August when my mum texted me to say Chris, one of New Zealand's best ever motor racing drivers and my dad's former boss, had sadly passed away from cancer.

I'd become very close to the Amon family when I was growing up, because Chris' daughter Georgie was nearly the same age as me and we'd muck around together at school and on the weekends with her two twin brothers, James and Alexander.

I was thinking about him recently when I caught a small plane down to New Plymouth and we flew in over the chequered Taranaki paddocks which look so perfect from the air, because Chris was the one who ignited my love of flying.

The family had a tiny six-seater plane, and I was about 10 or 11 when they invited me along on my first flight from the farm's airstrip at Scotts Ferry, Bulls, to visit Uncle Bill in what seemed then to be a wildly glamorous destination: Paraparaumu.

Yes, it would have been a lot easier to drive (an hour and a bit), especially because he had to make two trips to get all of us — including the family rottweiler — down there, but that wasn't the point. He loved to fly that plane. I was absolutely beside myself at getting to go in it.

My dad had to come down and clear the airstrip of cattle while Chris got the plane ready in his small hangar, and I can clearly remember the thrill of taking off and landing, but mostly the sight of those perfect paddocks from the air.

Racing driver (and pilot) Chris Amon. Photo / Supplied
Racing driver (and pilot) Chris Amon. Photo / Supplied

There were more short flights after that, always in pairs, with the dog panting and drooling behind our shoulders in the back seat — and even one when George took over the controls for a while; she went on to take a few flying lessons when we were at high school.

The family had a mussel farm and house in the Marlborough Sounds and we would often head down for the the school holidays. When I started high school a few days earlier than the others, a float plane thrillingly landed right in our bay in Kenepuru Sound, to pick me up. It flew me back to Paraparaumu where my mum came to collect me.

There was no escaping planes for a few years there — we lived very close to the RNZAF Base at Ohakea and the pilots used to practise in their stunt planes over our house before the annual air show. The Air Force bombing range was also near by, so in the early evenings of summer it was like living in a war zone.

None of that made as much impact on me as that first flight.

Rest in peace Chris, and thanks for the memories.

- NZ Herald

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