As he stared out the window of the DC-3 plane, Digby Sygrove spared a thought for his father who was told to grab his belongings and jump out of the same type of plane during World War II.

Sygrove cashed in his Christmas gift to fly in an original Douglas DC-3 Skyliner ZK-AWP at Classic Flyers on Sunday - a flight that brought history to life for him.

While flying over the region, the 71-year-old Tauranga man recalled the day his father, Peter Sygrove, could have died but for the quick-thinking DC-3 pilot who ordered his crew to jump when the engine "conked out".

"It really brought it all back to me," Sygrove said.


"I imagined him sitting there ... It must have been a terrific experience to have that engine stop and feeling the plane starting to drop and looking at the storm-topped waves thinking this maybe the end."

Sygrove's father was on the DC-3 flying back to New Zealand after World War II ended in 1945 when the plane flew into a storm.

"The engine conked out and they started to lose height," Sygrove said.

He said the pilot became concerned for his crew's safety and opened the door and ordered everyone out of the plane.

"The pilot said it was suicide to try to land. Dad said at one stage the plane was so low some of the waves were blowing across the plane."

Sygrove admitted there could have easily been a sad ending to that story, but thankfully his father survived.

What did not make it, however, was his father's hand-made paua jewellery which Sygrove said still remained on the bottom of the ocean.

The legendary Douglas DC-3 was one of the longest-used airliners and Sygrove had a special connection with the aviation icon.

He said his second cousin, Squadron Leader Fred Lucas - nicknamed Popeye - was the first Kiwi to fly the Dakota DC-3 NZ3501.

It was 1943 and the brand new Dakota DC-3 was parked on the tarmac outside Lucas' office at the Whenuapai base - there was no sign of the pilot.

Sygrove said his second cousin cheekily asked Squadron Leader Bill Tacon if he wanted to go for "a ride in the Dak" - and they did.

Sygrove's scenic flight from Classic Flyers in Tauranga to Waihi and back was his second time reminiscing in the DC-3 plane.

But this time was extra special because he got to share the experience with his son Nick Sygrove and 10-year-old special-needs grandson, Hunter Sygrove.

"There were three generations of us," Sygrove said.

He had shared his father's history with his grandson during the flight and told him some of the plane's history. "He is interested in engines and loves anything with fans."

The flight was made extra special when the pilot invited the family into the cockpit which Sygrove said was very rare.


- First flight: December 17, 1935
- Model number: DC-3
- Wingspan: 28.95m
- Length: 19.6m
- Height: 4.9m
- Ceiling: 6339m
- Range: 2405km
- Weight: 13607kg
- Power plant: Two 1200-horsepower Wright Cyclone radial engines
- Speed: 309km/h
- Accommodation: 3 crew and 14 sleeper passengers, or 21 to 28 day passengers, or 1689kg to 2041kg freight