Steve Askin would hate to be called a hero. A loving father, husband, son, brother, mate. That's all that counted to him.

The ex-SAS soldier went to extreme lengths to hide news of his war decorations. He was just doing his job, he would say. Just like in February this year, when the Port Hills, Christchurch, scrub blaze broke out. Unprecedented in scale and proximity to a major New Zealand city, Askin answered the call of duty before it even came.

And when the 38-year-old died when his Squirrel helicopter crashed near the Sugarloaf carpark on the blustery nor'west afternoon of February 14, he would have been "annoyed that he didn't get to finish the job", says his widow, Elizabeth, and mother of their two children, Isabelle, 8, and Bowie, 5.

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His tragic death fighting the fires prompted a mass display of grief. A Givealittle page initiated to help support his young family topped $400,000.

Today, Askin has been named as the winner of the Herald's New Zealander of the Year People's Choice Award for 2017. A total of 5656 people voted and Askin was a clear winner.

But Elizabeth Askin says her late husband would be mortified by the public recognition.

"With Steve, he'd have been like, 'Just doing my job. All the other pilots were out there doing their job.' He wouldn't want to be the face of this or that."

Elizabeth Askin, speaking publicly for the first time about the tragedy, has paid tribute to a loyal, trustworthy, generous, honourable, and well-respected man of faith.

"I grieve so much for my children because I know what an awesome father they have lost," she says. "I was so pleased knowing what a man of great character and fun the children had for a father."

The last 10 months have been a "nightmare" for Elizabeth.

Steve Askin with his wife Elizabeth Askin. Photo / Supplied
Steve Askin with his wife Elizabeth Askin. Photo / Supplied

After the accident, she stayed with her parents in Dunedin.


Now, she is back living on the rural North Canterbury property she shares with Askin's parents, Paul and Lesley.

Her faith and love for her children have helped her to cope, along with remembering Steve's "infectious positive attitude towards life".

Paul Askin says the New Zealander of the Year People's Choice Award came as an emotional shock to the family.

At Steve's funeral where hundreds of mourners packed out the Air Force Museum of New Zealand at Wigram in Christchurch, his mother, Lesley, said: "No mother wants a dead hero. It doesn't take going overseas and being an SAS warrior to be a hero. It's to do what is right."

That's still the case for the Askins today.

"We love Steve, we're very proud of him, and miss him like hell. It's great that he's honoured by people, but we'd much rather have him around," says Paul.

"But it's great that Steve's service has been recognised. It's a good thing in our country that we recognise service. Because there's an awful lot of cultural pressure to look after yourself. But if you scratch a bit deeper, we realise that to be a cohesive society we need people who serve.

"And there are lots of people, all the time. There were hundreds of people who served in that fire, most of them never got much of a pat on the back."

The Askins have often wondered why Steve's death touched so many people, especially other New Zealanders who had never met him.

Perhaps it was because he was a true Kiwi bloke. "Yeah that Kiwi thing," Paul says. "That self-deprecating, humble, get on with the job, do the job, and go home to the family ... that was Steve."