The elderly man killed in a light plane crash at Matamata Aerodrome has been described as an aviation enthusiast, a brilliant pilot and a safety-conscious man who was loved by all who knew him.

John Shuttleworth has been identified as the man who died when his scale replica warbird plane crashed shortly after 11am on Monday.

Emergency services attended the crash, but despite paramedics' best efforts to resuscitate the pilot, he died at the scene.

It is believed Shuttleworth, a Morrinsville local in his eighties, was heading out on his own for a morning ride in the skies in a three-quarter scale version of the World War II P-51D Mustang he had built himself.


New Zealand Aviation chief executive Mitchell Coombe said Shuttleworth, who he had known for about four years, was well-known in the community and was survived by his wife and children.

"He was a very close friend ... highly experienced and just passionate,'' Coombe said of his mate.

"A passionate pilot who lives and breathes aviation."

Coombe said the keen flyer had been an active member of the airfield and aeroclub for at least two decades.

Shuttleworth had also been well-known in Morrinsville, having run a number of small businesses including a milking machine store, a dairy and a green grocers.

The plane is a Titan T-51D, which is a three-quarter scale version of the World War II P-51D Mustang.

Coombe said the plane was Shuttleworth's "baby".

The aircraft and the story behind it has been featured in a blog, NZ Civil Aircraft, a number of times.


Shuttleworth named his plane Miss Dixon - after his wife, now Nadia Shuttleworth.

A photo of her, taken in the 1950s, features on the fuselage, or the main body, of the plane.

The blog says: "The aircraft tells a lovely story of how John was equally attracted to Miss Dixon and the 3 (Canterbury) Squadron Territorial Air Force Mustangs that flew over Lincoln University when John was a student there in the 1950s.''

Coombe said no one had witnessed the accident, but the way in which it appeared to have nose-dived at the other end of the airfield indicated a mechanical failure.

A neighbour of the aerodrome, who did not want to be named, said the aircraft had just taken off.

"I heard him take off and the engine stopped and then a thump."

The craft had risen only about 20 metres off the ground before the engine stopped, he said.

The plane's door was jammed and he helped prise it open with the handle of a car jack which someone grabbed from a car.

"He was crunched over ... He hit his head on the dashboard. He had a head trauma."

Police and St John paramedics arrived at the scene and pulled the man out of the plane.

Coombe said the community was devastated at the loss of such a dedicated pilot.

"When these unfortunate accidents do happen, it really does knock us hard and our students and staff," he said. "We've just grouped together as a community to just help each other to work through it."

Coombe couldn't say what plans were under way to pay tribute to the local pilot, but said it would be "very, very big".

The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the cause of the crash.