Pioneering flier Sir Tim Wallis, the father of the helicopter pilot who died in a Lake Wanaka crash on Saturday, survived 15 air crashes.

The last of these, in 1996 in a World War II-era Spitfire, ended his solo flying career and nearly ended his life.

The police said yesterday a body, believed to be Matthew Timothy Wallis, had been recovered from the part of the lake called Stevensons Arm, which is about 11km north of Wanaka township.

Friends, family and colleagues have spoken of the grief caused by the loss of Wanaka helicopter pilot and tourism businessman Matthew Wallis
Friends, family and colleagues have spoken of the grief caused by the loss of Wanaka helicopter pilot and tourism businessman Matthew Wallis

Wallis, 39, went missing on a solo flight in a Robinson helicopter on Saturday afternoon.

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Friends, family and colleagues have spoken of the grief caused by his loss, and how he was a highly respected member of the Wanaka community.

Tim Wallis' brother, George Wallis, said, from Hawaii, that Tim Wallis was devastated.

George, 83, described Wallis as very energetic and said he would leave a "big void".

George and Tim, 79, were the two older children of Arthur Wallis, a Westland and South Westland timber and sawmilling businessman. While George branched into trucking, Tim carved out a ground-breaking career by combining helicopters, wild deer recovery and farming.

The interests of the Wallis family - which was on the NBR Rich List for a time - include Alpine Helicopters and Minaret Station, a remote and exclusive lodge, tourism base and working farm on the western side of Lake Wanaka.

Matthew Wallis was a son of Sir Tim Wallis, founder of the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow. Photo / Claire de Barr
Matthew Wallis was a son of Sir Tim Wallis, founder of the Warbirds over Wanaka airshow. Photo / Claire de Barr

Tim Wallis bought his first helicopter in 1964 and crashed while learning to fly the following year.

The first life-changing crash was in 1968. He was rescuing stock near Queenstown, after a snow storm, and flew his Hiller chopper into power lines.

He injured his spine and wasn't expected to walk again - but did, with the help of a caliper on his left leg.

Wallis' enthusiasm for flying developed into an expensive love affair with classic planes, leading to purchases and reconstructions of, among others, Soviet and American fighters - and a Supermarine Spitfire Mark 16 which he loved to fly.

In 1989, with fuel problems, it crashed in a forced landing at Waipukurau. Another crash followed during a landing in 1992 at Blenheim.

Sir Tim Wallis nearly died in 1996 after he set the rudder wrong when flying a Spitfire other than the one he usually flew and it crashed on take-off.
Sir Tim Wallis nearly died in 1996 after he set the rudder wrong when flying a Spitfire other than the one he usually flew and it crashed on take-off.

But it was in a different Spitfire in 1996 that Wallis nearly died while taking off at Wanaka. It was a flight in preparation for that year's Warbirds over Wanaka, the hugely popular airshow he had founded in 1988.

"I made a complete stuff up," Wallis told the Listener.

He had set the rudder wrong; when the plane took off it veered to the right and hit the ground at high speed. Wallis was unconscious for seven weeks, lost the sight in one eye and was left with a severe brain injury.

On Matt Wallis' Linked-in page, the 39-year-old was described as the manager of Minaret Station, the tourism arm of the family firm's parent company The Alpine Group. With his three brothers and Dunedin accountant Murray Valentine, Matt Wallis was a director of the parent company.

The chairman of the Warbirds over Wanaka Community Trust, John Gilks, said, "Our heartfelt condolences go to Matt Wallis' wife, Alice, their young son Arthur and the wider Wallis family at their loss."

He said the Wallis family were highly respected in the Wanaka community. All family members had been strong supporters of the airshow.

"This has been a tragic accident and Matt will be sorely missed by a large number of people in the aviation industry and the wider Wanaka community.

"Our thoughts at this sad time are with the Wallis family and the team at Alpine Group."