Accomplished pilot Dean Voelkerling was a charismatic, honorable and loyal man, plus a great friend.
That's how fellow Northland Rescue Helicopter chief pilot Peter Turnbull described his colleague and best mate.
Mr Voelkerling and another man, yet to be officially named, died when the light plane they were in crashed into a farm paddock alongside the Northern Wairoa River south of Dargaville about 12.20pm on Monday.
As officials continued to investigate why the Vans RV7 plane, built by Mr Voelkerling over eight years, crashed, many paid tribute to the passionate aviator.
Mr Turnbull, with over 50 years' aviation experience, said Mr Voelkerling was one of the best pilots he had worked with and he had a real affinity with machines.
He was always willing to help anyone interested in flying and there would be a number of people in Northland flying purely because Mr Voelkerling had taken an interest and had taken the time to help, Mr Turnbull said.
"He contributed enthusiasm beyond the call of duty. If we needed another pilot and Dean was around he would drop what he was doing and come and help out flying.
"He was dedicated to NEST and wanted the service to succeed. He was very innovative and looked for ideas to develop, streamline or make more efficient."
He was particularly interested in avionics and had helped develop new technology that was used in rescue helicopters.
"Dean was charismatic, loyal and a great friend," Mr Turnbull said.
Northland Emergency Services Trust chairman Paul Ahlers said the team were in shock over the tragic loss.
"Dean was an excellent well respected pilot and a great guy. He worked tirelessly to help improve the rescue helicopter service and would always make himself available to anyone who needed help, advice or assistance."
He said Mr Voelkerling was a passionate aviator and if there could be any consolation in his passing, it was that he died doing what he loved — flying.
"He will be sorely missed by everyone here at NEST, and our thoughts and condolences are with his family at this very sad time."
Mr Voelkerling started pilot training while working as an advanced paramedic for the Wellington Free Ambulance and crewing the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
After working as a dedicated advanced paramedic for more than 20 years, he changed careers and started as a co-pilot with NEST in 2004.
He worked his way up the ranks to captain and held the position of Operations Manager.
During his time in Northland he helped other rescue services including Australia and Solomon Islands.
In 2011 Mr Voelkerling got a bird's eye view of flood-ravaged Queensland and did a 12-day stint helping rescue residents by airlifting injured people from their Rockhampton homes to safety and hospitals.
In December he was throwing his weight behind a new Northland initiative that would see firefighters airlifted to crash scenes that were not quickly accessed by crews on the ground.
He said there were a number of emergencies the crew had been called to that patients would have benefited from a fire team being on the scene as soon as possible.
"It's going to be great for the patients and that's the whole reason we are here and exist," he said.
Whangarei Flying Club captain Rusty Russell said Mr Voelkerling had been a member of the club for about three years and was extremely popular and a knowledgeable and experienced pilot.
"He was a mentor to a lot of fliers - they all looked up to him because of his status in the aviation industry and he was very forthcoming with his knowledge.
Tributes were flowing on facebook with a friend Dave Greenberg posting: "As far as I know Dean was the only person in New Zealand to be a rescue helicopter crew, paramedic and pilot across an amazing career. The only things he loved more than his job and plane was his family."
Paramedics Australasia, New Zealand (PANZ) said: "We are incredibly sad to hear today of the death of Dean Voelkerling. Dean was known to many for his work on rescue helicopters and served tirelessly in this and many other areas. A true hero who will be greatly missed."
Civil Aviation authority officials were at the scene todayinspecting the damaged plane. Police were waiting for post-mortem examinations to be completed and official identification to be done before officially releasing the names of the two men.