Before the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake cleared the Ahuriri inner lagoon of water, Napier struggled to find a piece of land in which to operate an airfield.
Hastings, on the other hand, had large expanses of open, flat country. So when Dominion Airlines Limited was formed in 1929 it chose Hastings as its aerodrome for its flights between Gisborne and Wellington. It began its service in 1930.
When the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake had struck on February 3, Dominion Airlines' Desoutter II had been undergoing an overhaul at Hastings. The company, however, took the opportunity to increase business due to the earthquake, and its directors told George Bolt to resume flying between Hastings and Gisborne, with a fare hike to £4 ($419).
Three flights a day would occur between Hastings and Gisborne, shared between George Bolt and Ivan Kight, who was also managing director of Dominion Airlines.
In 1928, John Moncrieff and George Hood attempted the first transtasman flight from Australia to New Zealand. Ivan Kight had qualified as a pilot in 1916 and was a founding member of the New Zealand Air Force, was heavily involved in the attempt by raising finance for the transtasman flight and dealing with the Australian and New Zealand governments.
As John Moncrieff was the only person to have piloted the slightly modified Ryan B-1 Brougham monoplane called Aotearoa, and the trip was his idea – he was the first choice for the two-manned mission. The other place was to be filled by either George Hood or Ivan Kight.
A toss of coin was used to decide who would be the crewman to John Moncrieff on the expected 14-hour flight. George won.
The plane never arrived and neither it or its pilots were ever found.
Ivan Kight had offered to take George Bolt's place for the second flight on February 8 from Hastings to Gisborne at 10.15am. The return trip to Hastings would leave Gisborne at 1pm with an air drop over Wairoa of telegrams.
Ivan would take two passengers on the flight. Walter Findlay, 50, a Gisborne baker and William Charles Strand, 28, an engine oil expert who worked for A S Paterson Limited in Wellington.
Disaster occurred on February 8, 1931, when the Desoutter piloted by Ivan Kight carrying the two passengers, crashed after dropping the package of "telegraphic matter for the Wairoa postal authorities". It was Ivan's seventh wedding anniversary.
After making the successful mail drop, the plane appears to have stalled at an altitude of around 250 feet (76m). The nose of the plane was buried in the ground by the impact. All three on board were killed, two instantly and the third minutes after rescuers had arrived on the scene. It was the first fatal accident for a commercial airline in New Zealand.
George Bolt flew up to Wairoa with Maurice Buckley from Hastings upon hearing the Desoutter had crashed. Both men examined the wreckage and ordered what was left of the plane to be destroyed by fire but salvaged the engine.
George would tell the coroner the next day his possible explanation after he had interviewed witnesses.
"From what I was told the machine had come down low to drop messages. After it had dropped them the plane flew downwind at a very low altitude. From what eyewitnesses told me the engine stopped immediately after.
"The plane turned on its side and dived to the ground. I should gather from this that on the engine stopping the pilot did not have enough altitude to turn into wind to land, which it looked as if he tried to do, the machine stalling on the turn and dropping.
"Everything seemingly being in good order, I suggest it possible that when handling the throttle after dropping the message the deceased may have accidentally knocked the switch off with his elbow, as he was a big man and [there is] not much room in the cockpit."
Dominion Airlines went into voluntary liquidation in March 1931 due to the loss of its only operational aeroplane. George Bolt had by then left to work for another company.
Their daily service between Hastings and Gisborne had stopped after the crash. The air force was called in to keep this vital link going, which was all the more important after the earthquake.
It was later revealed that Ivan Kight (who was also a well-known lawyer from Dannevirke) was not licensed to fly passengers.
A lawsuit in September 1931 against Dominion Airlines Limited (in voluntary liquidation) by William Thomas Strand, mayor of Lower Hutt, sought damages of £5000 ($566,000) for the death of his son, William Charles Strand. The claim of negligence was based on the manoeuvre being at too low an altitude and too slow, and that Ivan Kight was not a licensed pilot for passengers.
Damages were awarded of £3000 ($339,000), but on application to the Court of Appeal by Dominion Airlines this was overturned with the judgment ruling that pilot negligence could not be proved.
A new company, Gisborne Air Transport Limited, was formed on March 6, 1931 and took over the Gisborne to Hastings route, charging a fare of £4 ($433). The company purchased two planes, a Desoutter 2 and a DH Moth coupe, and started flying on March 10, 1931.
With thanks to Errol Martyn, aviation historian, for assistance with this article.
Michel Fowler will be giving a talk to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake titled "Hastings and Napier's immediate response to the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake, A contrast in Approach". The talk will be at 7pm in Havelock North on February 3. Tickets $15 available from Wardini Books Havelock North or Napier.