Passionate aviator Dean Voelkerling has flown his last flight.
The man who helped thousands of people as a paramedic and then as a rescue helicopter pilot was given a fitting farewell yesterday at Toll Stadium in Whangarei.
Hundreds of people stood in the grandstand and watched as the Northland Rescue Helicopter with Mr Voelkerling's coffin inside lifted off the green turf into the cloudless blue sky destined for a private cremation.
A guard of honour was formed by colleagues from the Northland Emergency Services Trust, St John, police, fire, family and friends as he boarded his final flight.
The 53-year-old pilot and passenger Paul Fabien Rawiri, 45, of Leamington, both died when the light plane they were in crashed near Dargaville on New Year's Day.
Investigations as to why the plane, which took Mr Voelkerling eight years to build, crashed are continuing by the Civil Aviation Authority.
The helicopter yesterday was flown by chief pilot and good friend Peter Turnbull who spoke at the service saying he could not speak highly enough of Mr Voelkerling's contribution to the community in Northland and across New Zealand.
"Many patients on flights benefited from his ability to think outside the square rather than be overcome with reasons why a job couldn't be done. Dean was always a half glass full guy.
"Rest in peace Dean, one more flight," Mr Turnbull said in closing.
During the service Mr Voelkerling's flight helmet and headset along with his rescue helicopter jacket and a model of the Sikorsky rescue helicopter sat atop his coffin.
His wife, Kathy, spoke of their brief first meeting but said there was an instant connection.
"A gentle kind man with a sparkle in his eye and a wicked sense of humour."
She described their 10 and a half years together as the best of her life.
"I am so glad that he had the determination and courage to follow his dreams, proud beyond words of what he has achieved and the lives he has saved and touched forever. Those memories will always bring a smile.
"Dean would consider all before himself. His caring, giving nature was not just skin deep, it ran right through him like a raging river. It didn't matter how tired or busy he was Dean was always thinking about someone else."
Mr Voelkerling started pilot training while working as an advanced paramedic for the Wellington Free Ambulance and moved to Whangarei to start with NEST in 2004.
Wellington rescue pilot Dave Greenberg had flown hundreds of missions with Mr Voelkerling and said the very accomplished paramedic had made a difference to so many people and saved so many lives.
"He was the man you could always trust."
Those gathered heard how Mr Voelkerling was a reluctant student at Hunterville School and Rangitikei College. But at an early age he became a St John volunteer and as a cadet officer encouraged those in his charge to gain a good knowledge of first aid before they went on to higher things.
He had a job driving bulldozers and heavy machinery and also drove a cattle truck while volunteering as an ambulance officer.
John Bain, former NEST chairman, said Mr Voelkerling was reliable, dedicated and a skilled, compassionate professional.
"He was the best pilot because he had NEST blood in his veins."