The families of two New Zealanders who died in a gliding crash in a remote area of Namibia yesterday have paid tribute to two "wonderful men and experienced pilots".

Bill Walker and David Speight, both of Queenstown, were shining lights in the New Zealand gliding community.

Between them, they have almost a century of gliding experience.

Yesterday they were on a reconnaissance flight when the incident happened.


The families believe they were killed on impact.

The crash is still being investigated by the Namibian authorities.

The New Zealand High Commission in Pretoria is providing consular advice and support to the men's families.

"We can confirm that Bill Walker and David Speight both of Queenstown were the pilots killed in the gliding accident in Namibia, at a location approximately 50km from the gliding base," said a joint statement from the families this morning.

"Our families are devastated to lose such wonderful men and experienced pilots, we would like to thank our family and friends, and especially the extended gliding fraternity for their support. The families now request privacy at this difficult time."

Mr Speight first learned to glide at the Taieri Plains near Dunedin in 1959. His contribution to New Zealand gliding both as a role model and aviator "will be greatly missed", the families said.

Mr Walker started out gliding in the early 1970s and was influential in the development of the Omarama Airfield.

He also flew for New Zealand at many international gliding events.

But one of his proudest moments was bringing the World Gliding Championships to Omarama in 1995, the families said.

In a statement yesterday, Gliding New Zealand president Karen Morgan said: "The people involved are respected pilots within the gliding community, and our thoughts are with their families and friends."

Ms Morgan said last night that Namibian authorities - thought to include police and accident investigators - were at the crash scene.

The crash is thought to have happened early yesterday, New Zealand time.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said the the ministry "can confirm reports of a fatal gliding accident in Namibia involving two New Zealand citizens".

"The families of the two New Zealanders have requested privacy at this difficult time."

E-Type Engineering Ltd general manager Phil McDowell was today grieving the loss of Mr Walker, the company's founder and director.

"I worked with Bill for 33 years. It's a real tragedy and pretty hard to deal with at the moment," he said.

Mr McDowell described Mr Walker as a "wonderful guy" and a "real motivator with a huge personality".

"He's got a lovely family who are all painted with the same brush," he said.

"He was a tremendous man and he is going to be a massive loss. We'll have to do our best to carry on."

Mr Walker held numerous gliding world records and, in 2004, was named an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for his services to aviation and industry.

Fellow world record holder, Speight ran a sheep and beef farm in Southland called Tower Peak Station.

His son Nicolas Speight, a former New Zealand Army officer, was shot and killed in Arbil, northern Iraq, on April 24, 1999.

The 32-year-old was working as a programme manager in a United Nations-contracted land-mine clearing operation.