The death of Wanaka ranger Paul Hondelink in yesterday's tragic helicopter crash near Wanaka Airport has been called a "huge" loss for the Department of Conservation.
Hondelink, who had 47 years experience as a ranger, was one of three people killed in the crash yesterday morning, along with pilot Nick Wallis and another DoC worker.
DoC Director-General Lou Sanson paid tribute to Hondelink, Wallis and the other DoC worker in an emotional interview on RNZ this morning.
"We just lost so much. These are some of the most experienced people in the world.
"It's just a tragedy we are just absolutely stunned, we don't know what to say.
The two DoC workers and Wallis played crucial roles in protecting New Zealand's environment and helping native birds.
"This is huge what has happened to DoC. Thousands of birds are alive on islands because of these people."
He knew Hondelink well.
"I shared 10 camps with him in Fiordland as we trialled 1080 gels and looked at how to make Secretary Island predator-free."
He was able to carry out huge catchments of pest control "for not a lot of money just because of the way he thought things through".
The other DoC worker "was just born to kill predators to bring back our birds".
Wallis, using his engineering experience, was "constantly trialling new ways of pest control" and was part of the Wallis family's crucial link with the department.
"We were linked at the hip with the Wallis family and we just can't believe what's happened."
He said he was now focused on supporting the families of those killed.
"We've lost some of the most significant experience in New Zealand, if not the world yesterday."