Today is the anniversary of an aviation mystery which has gripped the Dannevirke district for 80 years.

In 1935, Hamish Armstrong and his plane vanished on a flight from Akitio to Hastings and his body has still not been found. For Dannevirke's Ken Mills, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Armstrong, who was flying his Gypsy Moth ZKABM, has a personal connection. "My father was a close friend of Hamish and was probably the last person to speak to him before that flight," he told the Dannevirke News.

"Hamish had rung Dad to see what the weather was like. Apparently, my father told him the weather didn't look good and advised him not to fly that day."

Mr Mills' father had overseen work on the engine of the Gypsy Moth and also took part in the search for the plane and its pilot.


Armstrong had taken off from Akitio on July 21, 1935, at 0945 hours and was considered an experienced pilot. It's now believed an easterly drift carried him off his course to Hastings - a flight which should have taken about 50 minutes.

It appears Armstrong made a forced landing on the western side of the Ruahine Ranges, behind Wakarara.

An extensive 15-day search for him and his plane covered a wide area, with 20 planes, including a 1929 Gypsy Moth now owned by Hastings pilot Jan Chisum, which flew into Dannevirke in June as part of the dawn raid, involved, along with ground searchers.

The 1929 Gypsy Moth owned by Jan Chisum of Hastings took part in the search 80 years ago for Akitio's Hamish Armstrong. Photo / Christine McKay
The 1929 Gypsy Moth owned by Jan Chisum of Hastings took part in the search 80 years ago for Akitio's Hamish Armstrong. Photo / Christine McKay

The search area ranged from Woodville to Waikaremoana, taking in the Ruahine Ranges, the Kawekas and Urewera, as well as the coastline from Mahia to Akitio -- 9000 square miles of territory.

During the search, planes few 45,000 miles, with the 32 pilots clocking up 394 hours.

Once news an aeroplane was missing became widespread, there were many conflicting reports of its whereabouts which had to be investigated.

C Hunter and J Hartgill of Akitio, along with M Smith of Dannevirke and Humphrey Bailey of Wairoa and S Robinson of Hatuma helped by investigating the truth of more than 120 reports and rumours. People did report hearing a plane flying above the clouds at Hatuma at 1010 hours which was likely to have been Armstrong.

The unsung heroes during the early days of the search were the Takapau Country Women's Institute members who supplied the food for the pilots. Mr Mills' file on the search details the hours, the names of the pilots and the aero clubs involved, including the Ruahine Aero Club and the Royal New Zealand Air Force. But after 10 days of fruitless searching, a memorial service was held at Akitio for Armstrong.


Two days later, when the weather cleared, wreaths were dropped over the Ruahine Ranges on behalf of the Armstrong family and employees of Akitio and Glenora stations.

What they didn't know was the green and silver plane was lying, partially buried by snow not far from the spot where the wreaths were dropped.

On Sunday, August 4, the plane was found on what is now known as Armstrong Saddle by a group of Napier trampers. It appeared Armstrong had full control of the Moth when it landed as the undercarriage was relatively undamaged, as was the fuselage. It was thought he was quite possibly uninjured. A suitcase was found in the back of the plane, but no trace of his needed glasses. No message had been left with the plane and Armstrong's walking boots were also with the plane.

The plane's compass was also found to be in working order. Air investigator G R White reported: "It appeared to me that the pilot had made a stalled landing nose first into the hillside."

Finding the plane rekindled hope of finding Armstrong alive and ground parties began searching again, including Dannevirke's Alex and Jack Coldstream, who traversed the ranges from Hawke's Bay to the King Country.

Alex Coldstream said Armstrong would have had a hard walk in front of him with the snow deep and thick around the downed plane, with 20-foot drifts in the gullies.

However, 80 years on, the fate of Hamish Armstrong, the sports-loving bachelor from Akitio, still remains a mystery.